“We had trouble with their muscle,” said Tigers coach Darrin Leichty. “I thought we battled hard at the beginning of the game. You could see we had to up our play from the first couple minutes. We weren’t ready for the physicality. We battled. We’re young. We’ve got to keep plugging away. It should help us Friday night (against Madison-Plains).”
The Irish led 26-25 at the half and took a 42-38 lead after three quarters on a basket by Ray. The senior opened the fourth quarter with five straight points to increase the lead to 47-38.
“That really got us going there in the fourth,” Galluch said. “We continued it and kept the momentum going and were able to get it done.”
Irish freshman Sherrod Lay (nine points) followed with a layup and Galluch scored four straight points to give Catholic Central the lead for good.
“West Liberty is a tough team and kept it real close throughout the first three quarters,” Galluch said. “I’m happy that we could rally and get the win tonight.”
After a 3-4 start, the Irish have won nine of their last 10 games. The key, Mullen said, has been the team’s willingness to play pressure defense. During the eight-game winning streak, they’re allowing 34.8 points per game. The Irish, last year’s OHC South champion, remained two games back of division leader Greeneview (10-0) and one game back of Cedarville (9-1).
“At the end of the day, I think we were more physical than West Liberty was down the stretch,” Mullen said. “They’re a good young team and they’re well-coached. (Leichty) is a great coach. Our seniors, they felt it a little bit in the first half. Down the stretch, we had to calm them down. Senior Night is tough and the emotions are running high. We talked to them at halftime and calmed them down and started executing our offense. I felt like we scored at a much better clip in the second half.”
The Irish also got some help from the crowd, especially the student section. The Central fans were cheering and chanting loudly throughout the game.
“Our fans always show up and it’s a huge advantage,” Galluch said.
After the game, Leichty and his Tigers team talked about improving their communication when they play in a loud environment.
“They couldn’t hear what I was saying,” Leichty said. “We were getting lost on some screens. They’ve got to talk louder.”
The Tigers remained two games back of OHC North Division leader Fairbanks (8-2).
“We’ve got a good mixture of seniors and underclassmen and we’re still improving,” Leichty said. “I think that’s a good sign.”