Crusadettes defeat Robert C. Byrd for Mary ‘O’ crown
PARKERSBURG –The silver anniversary of the Mary ‘O’ Crusaderette Classic saw the hosts play up to the gold standard, when it mattered most. A big third quarter helped PCHS pull away from Robert C. Byrd in a 64-38 effort to win the title.
Aaliyah Brunny paced the Crusaderettes with a game-high 20 points and five rebounds. That helped her earn co-Most Outstanding Player honors alongside Leslie Huffman, who chipped in 18 points of her own. Huffman reflected on her big Saturday afternoon, as the start of the season for the Crusaderettes (3-0) opens the door for bigger opportunities down the line.
“I think Coach V did a really nice job keeping his head cool. Everybody talked in the locker room, and we knew shots weren’t falling,” she said of her team’s slow start in the first half. “That was tough to get over, but everybody knew that if we just played the game we knew, then everything would work out. It’s been tough trying to get started with the idea that our schedule is so condensed, but I think everybody knew we had to get a jumpstart on things. We didn’t have time to adjust. We just had to jump right in.”
That’s precisely what they did.
A 19-10 advantage after the first quarter saw a balanced approach, as Brunny tallied seven in the frame. She ended the period with a corner triple off an assist from Jenna Boice. Still, RCB (1-1) hung around throughout the half. A 29-18 PC lead at the break saw contributions from Mary Tokodi-Ruth, as she netted eight of her total ten in the first half. Her ability to step up when needed created space, and head coach Marty Vierheller talked through his halftime adjustments that led to an overwhelming deficit for the visiting Eagles.
“I think the biggest difference was our defensive pressure. We switched our defense up a bit,” Vierheller said. “I don’t just mean that we made an adjustment. I mean, we did several different things and mixed them up. I think that was the big difference-maker. There were some 50-50 balls that normally, we’d get. But they got those, and I credit Byrd. As far as our shooting, we told the kids,’You’re not trying to miss. They’ll fall for you, in the second half.’ I felt that our shooting felt better, in the second half. The girls do such a great job of looking for each other and it creates offense for us. They love to run. They love to pressure. We just weren’t knocking it down, in the first half. I was pleased with how we turned it around.”
Vierheller praised the efforts of his roster, and that effort shined through. A pair of buckets from RCB’s Martina Howe were matched by a pair from Brunny. Then, the hosts finally broke the game open midway through the third. Up 34-23, PCHS went on a 17-2 run to put the contest on ice.
Boice kicked off the scoring with 4:19 on the clock and was quickly followed. Tokodi-Ruth found Brunny in her favorite corner to add another 3-ball to the team total. On the day, the Crusaderettes knocked down eight shots from beyond the arc. Tokodi-Ruth, Jocelynn Thorn, Huffman and Brunny all knocked down a pair of triples. On the following Catholic possession, Brunny returned the favor and dished a pass to Tokodi-Ruth for her final basket of the day. Then, Huffman got a pass from Boice and knocked down what was her second 3-pointer. With the score 43-23, the Eagles were in desperate need of offense, and they got some with two made free throws from Victoria Sturm at the 2:29-mark. Sturm led her team with 11 points and gave PC’s guards someone to keep up with, on the other side.
Still, those freebies weren’t enough. Made shots from Huffman, Thorn and Brunny cemented the run, as PCHS celebrated its sixth Mary ‘O’ title in a row. That continues to be the longest championship winning streak in the tournament’s history. Parkersburg Catholic are winners of 19 out of the 25 tournaments.
Brunny talked about getting the job done and what it means to win this tournament one more time.
“In the first half, we struggled with shooting, so when we went in the locker room, Coach V told us our shots would fall,” she said. “Our defense has improved since our first practice and first game and scrimmage. We’ve always got to play for Mary and (former Crusaderette and current Fairmont State Fighting Falcon) Madeline (Huffman). It’s always nice to represent them both. Our expectations are very high. I think a lot of people are doubting us, because we lost Madeline, but the four freshmen we have are stepping up. Everyone is doing their part.”