CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Charleston Catholic coach Bill McClanahan was waiting for someone to pinch him Friday night.
The first 10 minutes were a dreamlike sequence as the Fighting Irish manhandled Tucker County, pitching a shutout in the opening quarter and scoring the first 19 points en route to a 60-26 victory. A crowd of about 350 attended the matchup of Class A state-ranked teams at the Charleston Catholic Athletic Facility.
"In my wildest dreams I couldn't have imagined us playing this well,'' said McClanahan, whose team was seventh in this week's Associated Press poll. "It was a perfect storm from our perspective. We made some shots and it just snowballed in our favor. We executed well offensively and I thought that was our best defensive effort of the year.''
Five different players contributed points as Catholic raced out to a 15-0 lead after the first eight minutes. The Irish tallied the first four points of the second quarter for a 19-0 bulge.
No. 4 Tucker County (14-3) finally got on the board when senior forward Ian Nichols sank two free throws with 5:33 left before halftime. The Mountain Lions missed their first 18 shots before senior post Mitchell Mason hit a turnaround jump shot in the lane with 2:27 before the break but they had a 24-4 deficit staring them in the face.
Senior wing Nick George scored 20 points behind four 3-pointers for Catholic (14-6) and senior guard Garrett McCarty added 19 points, five assists and five steals. Irish senior 6-foot-6 center Patrick Herlihy contributed seven points, 15 rebounds and four blocks. Catholic held Tucker to 18 percent shooting (9 of 50), including 1 of 10 on 3s.
"We warmed up hard and we really come out focused,'' said McCarty. "We were ready to play. We needed this one. We didn't want to lose this game.
"We need to get ready for March. We're chasing something bigger. We set the bar tonight and we need to keep playing like this. We played really well together and I think that says we're starting to bond. That's really good to see.''
The Irish have been building for the stretch run all year. Catholic has faced No. 1 Notre Dame, No. 3 Wheeling Central, No. 5 Greater Beckley Christian, No. 9 Gilmer County (twice) and No. 10 Bishop Donahue in Class A and No. 2 Poca and No. 7 Westside in Class AA, forging a 3-5 record.
"I think our players understand the level of effort, energy and preparation that they have to have,'' McClanahan said. "We had a great practice [Thursday] and I thought it showed. I hope this is a good first step for us. I hope we don't rest on this. I hope we build on this.''
While Catholic took a step forward, Tucker veteran coach Tom Gutshall saw the opposite from his squad Friday.
"They kicked our [butts] physically,'' said Gutshall of the Irish. "The wanted it more. I've never had a team that would back down.
"I've been worried about that all year, mental toughness. You're going to miss shots and I can handle [that]. We didn't answer. I'm not used to that. Every one of my teams always plays with effort. That's our reputation.''
Nichols turned in 10 points and 10 rebounds for Tucker.