When he took over the Catholic Central High School girls basketball team, one of second-year coach Brandon Peterson’s biggest messages was family.
The Irish are growing up fast.
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»RELATED: Tuesday’s high school roundup
Catholic Central beat Madison Plains on Saturday to close out the regular season at 6-16. That’s the most wins for the girls program in nearly a decade. And it comes after a two-win campaign in Peterson’s first season.
“Just playing as one,” Peterson said of his team-first priority. “With having two transfers coming in and with the growth of the team – especially going from seven players to 16 – we’re all trying to learn our parts.”
The Irish received a boost with Kenton Ridge transfers Ericka Ray and Jenna Skeens. But the depth was bolstered by the addition of a junior varsity team. Peterson said it’s the first time in more than a decade the Irish have played a JV schedule.
Although it nearly happened last year – but for a different reason.
“Last year our then-AD didn’t want to put us on a varsity schedule because of how young we were,” Peterson said. “We’re encouraging the players it’s about the process. I didn’t expect us to get this many wins this year. But at the same time the way they’ve jelled, they just keep pressing higher.”
Catholic Central’s biggest challenge comes Saturday in the first round of the Division IV sectional tournament. No. 10-seed Catholic Central plays No. 2 Franklin-Monroe (19-3) 12:30 p.m. at Brookville High School.
This season’s wins have come against Middletown Christian, Madison Plains (twice), Yellow Springs, Northeastern and Southeastern. The 33-28 victory at Southeastern was the most satisfying for Peterson and his Irish. Southeastern (6-15) beat Catholic Central 35-30 on Dec. 7.
In the second meeting, the Irish trailed 14-8 at halftime and rallied in the second half to outscore the Trojans 25-14.
“Last year only winning two games, this is really big for us,” Peterson said.
The Irish have two seniors (Ray and Selina Darkwa) and one junior (Taylor Baker) on the roster. The rest are sophomores (7) and freshmen (6). Freshmen Abbigail Peterson, Lizzie Bruce and Becca Samosky have seen considerable action.
The addition of Ray – who has a scholarship offer from Cincinnati Christian among her suitors – added valuable leadership and experience from a KR program that routinely challenges for the Central Buckeye Conference title.
“We’re talking about someone whose had so much experience at the tournament level,” Peterson said. “What I love about her is because she has such a high basketball IQ, sometimes she’s been so patient with the team instructing them on the court and keeping them going. She’s been a Godsend.
“We were so blessed to have her, along with Jenna. Normally you don’t see a losing program bringing in transfers.”
Sophomore Ayanna Doolittle, Ray and Peterson have been the top scorers for the Irish. Peterson – who averages a team-high 16 points – dropped in 30 points against Yellow Springs, the most points scored by an Irish player since 2005.
Skeens, Baker and sophomore Trish McConnell have been key rebounders.
“We’re kind of peaking at the right time in terms of the tournament,” Peterson said.
“I think it’s the belief in seeing what we have. We tirelessly worked to infuse in the girls to believe in the program. Just trust it. I really believe the excitement we’ve created through our players and coaching staff. It’s amazing. I think the biggest testament to our girls is after every game we have coaches telling us we look so different and to keep it going.”
• Northeastern standout Hayley Suchland scored 41 points in a 67-61 defeat of visiting Triad last Saturday in an Ohio Heritage Conference girls game.