BUFFALO, W.Va. - In Chelsey Parkins, Buffalo has one of the premier post players in Class A.
While she was able to control the paint again on Thursday night, the smallest players on the floor made getting the ball to her a chore unto itself.
Charleston Catholic's pressure defense forced 30 Bison turnovers, and thanks to clutch free-throw shooting from Anna Whelan and a big night from Vida Imani, the No. 8 Irish overcame a late Buffalo rally to score a 58-51 win on the road.
That swarming defense is led by a trio of theft-minded guards in Whelan (5-foot-5), Caroline Dundervill (5-3), and Peyton Mullen (5-4), who make getting the ball to halfcourt no small task.
"They're just so fast and they affect the game," Catholic coach Zack Bogan said. "When you come out and see us warm up, you're like 'Wow, these girls are tiny.' You look at our starting five and we're not very big, but they affect the game so much because they're so fast, they love to defend, they love to get out and run and they have very active hands.
"They really embrace it that that's their role - to defend and wreak havoc on the other team. That's what we rely on them to do."
After Catholic (8-2) opened up a 37-24 lead in the third quarter, Buffalo (8-5) responded with a 13-0 run to tie it at 37 early in the fourth. After the teams traded buckets twice, Catholic's Hanna Gallian hit two straight shots followed by two straight buckets for Imani to push the Irish lead back to 49-41.
The Bison's answer all night was Parkins but over that stretch, Catholic's defense, behind its guards, started to clamp down as Buffalo bogged down. Parkins rolled up 29 points, 13 rebounds and five blocks by the end, but it wasn't enough.
"We just got tired," Buffalo coach Jamie Ball said. "We've practiced three times, maybe twice in the last month. We just haven't been in the gym at all. You could see the life just get sucked out of us in the fourth quarter."
Whelan said that tiring out other teams has become a staple of the Irish this year.