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Another clinic from the Fighting Irish boys

BUFFALO, W.Va. - The look on Buffalo coach Chuck Elkins' face Tuesday night said it all.

Befuddled. Bewildered. Astonished. Amazed.

Much like the look on Parkersburg Catholic coach Rob Strcula's face exactly one week before.

They'd just seen their basketball teams - legitimate Class A contenders and season-long residents of the top 10 - dismantled by textbook performances by Charleston Catholic.

In the latest chapter on Tuesday, the Irish shot a torrid 64 percent and blasted the Bison 83-59 behind a career-high 29 points from Zach Casto, 19 points and nine rebounds from Nick George and 17 points and seven assists from Garret McCarty.

"They shot the lights out,'' said Elkins, shaking his head. "I've never seen anybody shoot that way - everything. And it just snowballed - they make, we miss, they make, we miss. We couldn't get back in the game. It's too far. It's out of control.''

The Irish did little wrong against the Bison, just like in last week's 78-48 demolition of the No. 5 Crusaders.

Catholic distributed the ball deftly, racking up 20 assists on 33 baskets, made 8 of 18 from 3-point range, hit 9 of 10 free throws, was whistled for only seven personal fouls in the game and committed just 12 turnovers in matching their season high of 83 points.

The Irish seemed to benefit from the return to the bench of coach Bill McClanahan, who missed the team's weekend trip to the Eastern Panhandle because of his job as an IT manager. It was the first time McClanahan had seen his players in nearly a week.

"We told them this was going to be a good chance to demonstrate to me where they were,'' McClanahan said. "We took a good step in the right direction, and they were mature in their preparation. We've stayed the same. We haven't gone backward.''

The Bison (15-3), ranked No. 8 in Class A, played with the Irish early, jumping into leads as high as five points in the first quarter and still led 14-10 late in the period. However, Buffalo's shots stopped dropping and Catholic never cooled.

The No. 2 Irish (16-2) closed out the first half by scoring 29 of the final 37 points, bumping their edge to 39-22. Halfway into the third quarter, the lead was 30 - and climbing.

Casto drained a pair of shots from the top of the key to start the third quarter and Catholic canned 11 of 14 in the period, including 5 of 6 on 3s. Casto ended the game 11 of 12 from the floor.

"We really stepped up to the plate,'' George said. "We're starting to play more consistently for longer amounts of time. We're starting to put it together now.''

Catholic also led 26-21 in rebounds and didn't let the Bison get many second looks at the basket. It marked the 31st straight time Buffalo had lost to the Irish over the past 16 years, and was the first loss for the Bison its new gym, where it had gone 9-0.

The only consolation for Buffalo was the late shooting show put on by senior forward Levi Jordan, who knocked down six straight attempts in the fourth quarter - including five 3-pointers. He finished with 25 points. Bradley Harris grabbed 11 rebounds.

"I think we panicked to a degree,'' Elkins said. "We may have gotten tired with all the running that we do. Still, you can't take anything away from Charleston Catholic.''

The Irish hope they have a little left in the tank for today's 4:30 p.m. showdown with No. 1 Tug Valley at the Civic Center during the five-game "Shootout at the Big House.''

"We're playing the No. 1 team at the Civic Center,'' George said. "For sure [we'll be ready]. We knew coming into the season that they won [the title] in double-A last year and we won in single-A. It's a big game and we're looking forward to it.''

McClanahan, however, won't be there to witness it today. He'll be flying out again this morning because of his job and doesn't expect to see his team again until Thursday or Friday. He is less than a year from retirement. Assistants Fred McPherson and Matt Morrison will again take over coaching duties.

"You'd like to have a couple days to get ready for a big game like this,'' McClanahan said, "because we'll be playing an excellent team. But we're playing well and they're playing well.

"We need to find out where we are. It's a good opportunity to measure where we are in February and where we need to be in March, and figure out what we need to do to get to the top. With what's at stake, mentally I don't think it will be an issue getting up to play. Plus if you're playing well in March, you've got to play back-to-back games against state tournament-level teams.''

Reach Rick Ryan at 304-348-5175 or rickryan@wvgazette.com.

 


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