Fighting Irish punch their ticket
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Charleston Catholic flexed its muscle early and bounced back from a sluggish second quarter to beat visiting Gilmer County 60-40 for the Class A Region 4 boys basketball co-championship Thursday night.
The Irish (22-3), ranked No. 2 in the final Associated Press Class A poll, ran out to a 20-3 lead by the end of the first quarter thanks in part to a 1-of-12 shooting performance by the Titans, but also because of numerous second-chance baskets and forced turnovers.
"We did not play well against Buffalo in the sectional final in the first half, especially the first quarter," Catholic coach Bill McClanahan said. "So one of our points of emphasis was to come out with better focus and better energy in the first quarter and tonight we were able to do that and that got us the cushion that was basically able to carry us through the game."
Catholic, the defending Class A champion, held Gilmer without a basket until the 6:44 mark of the second quarter when Austin Cunningham sank a jumper from the right wing to end the drought.
Gilmer (13-11) found some momentum following Cunningham's basket and outscored Catholic 16-11 in the quarter to cut the Irish lead to 31-19 at halftime.
The Irish went back to work in the third quarter, generally disrupting the Titan offense and forcing several Gilmer turnovers that led to baskets at the other end. Junior Nick George and senior Zach Casto combined to score 10 points in the period as Catholic pushed the score back to a comfortable 45-28 lead by the end of the quarter and never allowed Gilmer any hope the rest of the game.
"We talked about, at halftime, the need for better focus, better energy and better execution, because in the second quarter we kind of let all those three things slip," McClanahan said. "Nick and Zach were the beneficiaries but the whole group that started came back out on the floor and we got a couple of deflections, we got a couple of loose balls that led to some transition baskets and I think that got us started again."
Casto said it was easy to get motivated following Gilmer County's second-quarter run because of the job McClanahan does on the sideline and in the locker room.
"With our type of coach, he'll really motivate you at halftime and tell you the truth," he said. "With his presence out there and in the locker room, it inspires us to go out and play hard the rest of the night."
Casto finished with a game-high 18 points while George chipped in with 17. The two Irish forwards had the size advantage against the Titans frontcourt and found ways to exploit the mismatch, especially when Catholic needed baskets to swing the momentum back in its favor.
"We did try to exploit that but we just wanted to run our offense," George said. "We knew everyone was going to get shots and as long as we played how we were going to play, we were going to get open."
Anthony Aviles paced Gilmer County with 14 points while Cunningham and Austin Ratliff each scored eight. Garret McCarty also scored in double figures for Catholic with 10 points.
The Irish will be making their ninth consecutive appearance in the Class A state tournament and 10th overall with McClanahan as head coach, and as has become an annual tradition there is sure to be a mass of green and white in the Charleston Civic Center when Catholic plays its quarterfinal game. The Irish will face Buffalo at 9:30 a.m. Wednesday in the quarterfinals.
"It's a good feeling, man," George said. "There is nothing like playing at the state tournament."
Reach Tom Bragg at email@example.com.