BECKLEY - This is traditionally the time of year when George Washington kicks its season into high gear, and this year seems to be no different.
The Patriots continued their late-season push by disposing of Preston 59-48 Thursday evening in the girls division of the 24th Big Atlantic Classic. A crowd of about 300 attended the Class AAA matchup of state-ranked teams at the Beckley-Raleigh County Convention Center.
The Patriots (12-4), who were No. 10 in this week's Associated Press poll, will take on Parkersburg South at 4 p.m. Saturday in the championship game. South pounded AA Nicholas County 66-36 earlier Thursday.
GW has been up and down most of the season, but has now won six in a row and seems to be gaining steam as it pushes toward another state tournament appearance. The Patriots have advanced to the state semifinals the past two seasons.
"Oh yeah, we've really picked it up,'' said GW junior post Kelli Jo Harrison, who turned in 13 points, 11 rebounds, three blocks and two steals. "We've been working harder in practice. Toward the middle of the season, that's when we get on a roll and get hot. We work a lot better together than we did at the beginning of the season.
"We've started to make our shots and we're passing the ball real well right now. We're working as a team. I think it's going to work out real well for us.''
Harrison said the Big Atlantic atmosphere is just what the team needed.
"It prepares us for the state tournament,'' she said. "The crowd, it's kind of nerve-wracking to be out there playing in front of a bunch of people under the lights. It's really distracting, so it's really good for us."
After a slow start in taking a 10-8 lead in the opening quarter, the Patriots got red hot in the second period, sinking 9 of 17 shots and racing out to a 14-point advantage (31-17) at halftime. Senior guards Rachel Ward and Kayla Stewart nailed back-to-back 3-pointers to start the barrage.
Harrison and Stewart teamed up to knock down back-to-back treys early in the third quarter, and sophomore point guard Alanna Mobayed finished off the 9-3 run with a driving layup, to give the Patriots their biggest edge at 19 points (42-23) with 4:37 left in the period.
No. 7 Preston (9-3) pulled within 10 points early in the fourth quarter as senior Jesse Feather converted 3 of 4 free-throw attempts, but the Knights couldn't get any closer. They had several opportunities, but made just 3 of 12 shots in the final period. GW sank 9 of 12 foul shots to keep Preston at bay.