by Ed McCarnes

West Virginia Class A schools smiled as the St. Joseph Class of 2014 exited the Charleston Civic Center with a sixth consecutive championship.

Steel beam strength reasoning concluded the streak was over. The small school would not overcome the loss of four starters and a key veteran reserve. The conclusion seemed reasonable and correct. Usually it would have been.

But three unexpected factors, occurring before and in season, fractured the beam. In mid-March, as a game for the season concluded, the reality-fractured beam collapsed. For the Irish, what seemed improbable if not impossible, had been achieved.

The pre-season transfers of three student athletes were significant pre-buds to the restoration. Over the season a master development plan achievedits goals. During the season, players came to understand the program, its needs, opponent-generated obstacles, and their roles.

By the start of the state tournament the elements were in place. An unconfirmed report originating at the school was that Head Coach Shannon Lewis got word the from one of his players following the Regional. The message was short but concise: "Let's finish it." And the Irish did.

Championship: St. Joseph 40, Wheeling Central 37. Alexis Hall scored a game high 17 points with 10 rebounds. Tyesha Taylor converted 3-point and 2-point attempts as the Lady Irish (LI) capped a 6-1 point rally in the final four minutes.

The score was tied four times and the lead changed five as St. Joe battled back

from a 0-7 hole dug in the first 3:20 of play. Over the final three and a half quarters, the Irish outscored Wheeling Central 40-30.

The SJ defense limited the Knights to one free throw in the game's last 4:41.

Semi-Finals: St. Joseph 51, Charleston Catholic 27. Destiny Sims took game scoring honors with 13, Kendra Ziegler added 12 and Hall 10 points in the second half.

Diana Disu tied the score at 1-1. Kendra Ziegler's 3-pointer gave SJ the lead for good 3:07 into the contest.

Quarter-Finals: St. Joseph 75, Tug Valley 46. Hall finished with a team high 19 points and 11 boards, Sims added 15 points, Mychelle Johnson collected 14 points and 10 rebounds, and Ziegler had 12 points.

The Irish sprinted to a 9-0 lead in the first two minutes. Tug rallied to within 7 twice in the first quarter.

The LI advanced to the state with a 59-42 Regional victory against Gilmer County. Sectional wins over Buffalo (85-31) and Charleston Catholic (62-28) advanced SJ to regional play.

The master plan involved players at both the individual and team levels. From day one at the individual level the squad worked on ball handling and shooting. Conversion emphasis concentrated on the 3-point shot.

At the team level returning players were reunited and new players introduced to offensive and defensive strategies (what to do) and tactics (how).

Reams of repetition followed until different combos of five could play and switch positions seamlessly. Walk thoughs kept methods fresh.

Early on the young team struggled to understand and achieve the consistent energy and focus needed to succeed.

A lost weekend, with defeats on Saturday and Monday, turned out to be the blessing in disguise that ended the struggle.

Through Johnson, players later described by Lewis as "distraught" requested a "by invitation only" meeting. Included were players and coaches only.

Lewis and his assistants explained the schedule was not made for wins only and that the two losses were to good teams. He also explained that program success made each opponent consider the St. Joe game to be its Super Bowl.

Haylee Hunter and Desiree Disu joined their teammates in new perspective and commitment intensity. Player duties and responsibilities became clear. The naive had become savvy. A 7-4 start preceded a 13-1 finish and result satisfaction in the championship game.