Irish 4-Peat

Special to HuntingtonNews.Net
Irish 4-Peat

Provided by Ed McCarnes

In November the St. Joseph Lady Irish began a safari search for a fourth consecutive Class A girls basketball championship.  Four months and three days later they found it.  This is how accomplishment overcame adversity to achieve that goal.

Head coach Shannon Lewis knew his team had the potential to achieve that goal.  He also knew he had obstacles to overcome.

Lewis welcomed the return of four talented sophomores.  Two had played major roles in the 3-peat, the other two succeeded in key reserve roles. But there were problems.  The major post presence had graduated.  Two starters had transferred.  Other returnees had not established that they were ready to assume key roles.

Problems expanded on the first day of practice.  Lewis greeted only ten candidates.  The good news was Lewis now had a handle on his situation. The skeleton of the success strategy could be created.  Practice, practice games, and a challenging schedule would add the tactical flesh to a post season run.

The ninth year mentor constructed his plan.  The starter guards would have to contribute throughout.  The forwards would have to step up.  A middle school post transfer would have to develop. Then there was the overview phase.  Players would have to stay healthy. Players would have to avoid fouling up their participation time.

What Lewis didn’t count on came from two sources.  One was the contribution of a fourth year player.  The other was the impact of a junior off injured reserve. Two practice game wins and a decisive ( by 44 ) win over Parkersburg Catholic initiated the safari.  The restart of a crucial intangible followed. The Irish fell behind by 10 to Columbus Africentric after one period and by as many as 18 in the mid game quarters.  Don’t quit reincarnated.  St. Joe played its visitors even over the last three quarters.

The first bubble of the question “is there something special here?” occurred a week later.  St. Joseph finished 3 - 1 for the first time in the Lexington, Ky. Catholic Tournament.  The bubble question continued one week later. At the Peach State Classic a week later, the Lady Irish finished 1 - 2 but that was not the key note number on the report card.

In a grueling 10 day stretch St. Joseph finished 4 - 3 against the best bunched competition it would face all season.  A 5 - up, 4 - down mark at calendar 2011’s end met minimum expectations.  The foundation had been laid for a 15 - 2 combination mid season and stretch run.

In the midst of the success a setback punctuated practice preferences.  A developing reserve went to the sidelines for reason rumored as academic.  That is not, in itself, unusual.  The fact that the causal agent or factor was never identified is perhaps Federal privacy laws were the prevalent factor.  The loss deprived the program of an exceptional potential athletic talent. For whatever the reason the result was a major cramp inflicted on intra squad scrimmages.

By this time need one was established as being filled. Mychal Johnson had established.  She would be a major supplier of points, rebounds, assists and steals.  She was also a major contributor to blocked shots. Griffin Dempsey would provide constant 3-point presence and add significant points, rebounds, assists and steals.  Her 52 points, field goal shooting and floor game laid nuclear waste to Charleston Catholic’s plan to travel west and steal a “W” at The Joe.

Rachel Lee’s step up came in a variety of settings.  The numbers include 25 points against Carrollton Ga.; 11 rebounds against Ballard, Ky.; 9 steals against Parkersburg Catholic and four assists on three different occasions. Asia Petitte’s late season surge came after an adjustment in her shooting mechanics.  The 15  point result was a major factor in a win over Newark, Ohio. Post season highlights in rebounds and steals set the stage for state All-Tournament honors.

In the post Lewis looked for and got developing contributions in rebounds and blocked shots from Daysha Foster.  There were also flashes of impact point production.

Surprise one was the emergence of Kara Anderson.  Her rebounding and defensive zeal provided plural post presence.  Her years of experience in the program kept younger players focused.  Her practice work ethic accelerated the development of Foster.   The other surprise was the development and contributions of Cortney Anderson. A volleyball injury curtailed her freshman and sophomore year basketball participation.  Entering a late season match up with Oak Hill, Ohio, Anderson had converted one 3-point goal.  Against the Lady Oaks she drained two.  Little math is required to ascertain that impact in a 3 point win.

Caitlin Gale exhibited previously latent skills in post season sectional play . Season and career marks were set or matched for points, rebounds, assists, steals and blocks. Erin Pemberton ended her career with a crescendo of points, rebounds, assists, steals and blocks.  Her offensive aggressiveness and 3-point run made her a crowd favorite in the home stretch run of a four year career.

 The Irish met the need of avoiding long term injuries.  Johnson played through a December ankle sprain.  Dempsey ignored the pain of back spasms.  Kara Anderson returned quickly after an off court accident.  Foster suffered through shin splints. Petitte nursed a wrist injury during late season and post season play. St. Joseph also avoided serious foul disqualifications.  Three players experienced four zebra bites.Post season play loomed after a five game win streak improved the season to 14 - 6.

 In sectional play Hannan was dispatched by 66 and Buffalo by 44.  In regional play Man fell by 58.  All rostered players participated and scored.That continued as St. Joseph prevailed over Midland Trail by 63.  The Morgantown based school contained Johnson, Dempsey and Foster to single digit scores.  Petitte responded with a 17 point, 13 rebound double double.  Lee added 14 points.

St. Joseph’s championship should have been dubbed the Mychal Johnson Show. Over 32 minutes Johnson logged a 22 point - 13 rebound double double with four assists and two steals.  She was also the lead Irish ball handler. Dempsey added 14 points to complete the 4-peat.

St. Joe’s impact of control is best seen by breaking down clock minutes. Six games provide 192 clock minutes ( 6 x 32 ).  St. Joseph held the lead for 188:04.  The Irish never trailed. Zero ties accounted for 3:25.  Wheeling Central forced two other ties covering 0:31.

The 4-peat puts the Irish in an elite class for West Virginia school athletics. No AAA team has won four consecutive titles.  Summers County (AA) claimed five from 2007 through 2011.  Mercer Christian (A) took four consecutive titles from 1999 through 2002. The all- time boys record is eight by Northfork-Elkhorn beginning in 1981.

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