NITRO — March — and the state basketball tournament — are a long way off, but it seemed a little closer Saturday as a pair of programs with championship pedigrees squared off in Nitro.
Guards Ava Edwards and Taylor Maddox combined for 33 points as the host Wildcats held on for a 41-36 victory against Parkersburg Catholic at Alumni Gym in Nitro. The decision snapped a 25-game winning streak for Catholic.
Both programs are quite familiar with postseason success, as the Crusaderettes claimed the Class AA championship last season with a 24-0 record, and the Wildcats took the AAA title the year before.
The Wildcats (4-0) took the lead for good early in the second quarter and PC fell behind by as many as nine points, but the Crusaderettes shaved their deficit back to a single point at 29-28 late in the third quarter and 33-32 midway into the final period before yielding.
“Some of my parents ask why I schedule such a difficult schedule,” said Nitro coach Pat Jones, “and I tell them it’s not to prepare us for now, but to better prepare us for March.
“I don’t care if we go 0-22 (in the regular season), as long as we make the state tournament. Regular season is just scrimmages and practices for us to get better and prepare us for the postseason.”
Edwards, a sophomore, tallied 18 points for Nitro, hitting 6 of 12 shots when her team went just 15 of 43 from the floor (34.9 percent). Maddox, a senior and key returnee from the 2021 title team, added 15 points, six rebounds and three steals. She was 5 of 10 on field goals.
One of the game’s crucial moments came with 2:06 left when Edwards hit a floater from the left baseline to bump Nitro’s lead to 35-32. The teams had played more than three minutes with the Wildcats holding a tenuous 33-32 advantage.
Edwards and Maddox then teamed up to net six straight free throws down the stretch as the Wildcats finally put the game away.
Parkersburg Catholic (1-1) was led by Deborah Hardbarger and Jocelyn Thorn, who each scored nine points. Hardbarger grabbed seven rebounds, matching Isabella DeAngelo for the team high, and also came up with three steals, tying teammate Mary Tokodi-Ruth.
Crusaderettes coach Marty Vierheller watched his team go 13 of 45 from the floor for 28.9 percent but still manage to stay in contention.
“Give a lot of credit to Nitro,” Vierheller said. “They play really in-your-face, hard-nosed defense – and don’t take anything away from them – but we didn’t shoot the ball very well. But if that’s the case, you’d better play really good defense to keep yourself in the game, and I think we did that.”
The game’s top rebounder was Nitro’s Hailey Newsome, who grabbed a dozen missed shots to lead her side to a 43-32 edge off the glass.
Still, Jones realizes that there are many areas for improvement for Nitro, which played two freshmen and two sophomores among its six-player rotation. The Wildcats missed nine of 20 free throws, had 16 turnovers and failed to hit a 3-point shot in three attempts.
“We still have things to clean up,” Jones said. “We’ve got to get better around the basket. We missed a lot of easy layups around the basket. And we’ve got to see the pass before we make the pass.
“But we’re young. We’ve got guards, we’ve got kids that have never seen the floor stepping on the basketball court right now. But we’re 4-0 and we’ll continue to learn and continue to grow night in and night out. It’s all I could ask for from such a young group of girls.”
Vierheller was also interested in playing a strong out-of-class opponent – on the road – early in the season to use as a measuring stick.
“We pride ourselves in our program of being very intentional in what we do,” Vierheller said. “I can’t look my players in the eye and feel as though I haven’t done as a coach what we need to do to prepare. So along those lines, scheduling is a big part of it. We know what kind of pedigree Nitro has – they’re so well-coached with a lot of good athletes out there. I know they’ve lost a lot of players to graduation, and so have we.
“They’re a good team, even as young as they are, so we want this kind of test on the road. We’re not out to protect anything. We like to put ourselves out there and see who we are in December so we can be what we want to be in March. I don’t like that we lost, but I like that we learned.”
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