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Irish not taking Crusaders lightly

Feb. 28, 2013 @ 12:00 AM

HUNTINGTON -- As easy as the Huntington St. Joe girls basketball team has made wins look this season, some people might think of Thursday's Class A, Region IV final as a bit of a formality.

Irish head coach Shannon Lewis isn't one of those people.

Lewis is aware of what the opponent, Parkersburg Catholic, is capable of doing.

Top-ranked Huntington St. Joe (21-1) and Parkersburg Catholic (15-7) meet at 7 p.m., Thursday, at St. Joseph Central High School with the winner advancing to the state tournament.

"Parkersburg Catholic does as well as any team in the state of trying to control tempo against us," Lewis said. "Our focus is going to be to not allow them to keep it in a half-court type set. We are going to have to extend and keep the tempo up."

Parkersburg Catholic will come out on Thursday and try to slow the tempo with ball movement and a methodical offensive attack in an attempt to frustrate Huntington St. Joe into making mistakes and taking chances that will result in fouls or layups.

In both games this season, Lewis said his team did a good job of avoiding the trap that the Crusaders tried to set by forcing them into unnecessary risks.

And while Lewis is confident his team can also get into the slow, grind it out type game, he wants his team to continue to push the pace.

"We can play half-court, but it's the time of year where we want to assert our athleticism and skill level," Lewis said.

In the quest for their fifth-consecutive Class A girls state title, the Irish are peaking at the right time of year.

Everyone in the lineup is healthy and contributing well, according to Lewis.

"You don't want to jinx yourself, but I feel like team-wise, we're really including everybody," Lewis said. "We've put an emphasis on everybody running their lanes. Earlier this season, everyone would run the break and go immediately to the 3-point line. We've focused on getting down the floor and getting to the basket so we can make it harder for teams to guard us in transition."

That emphasis has produced an output of 83 points per game in the last five games, including a 104-point output in a win over Williamstown -- the team who beat Parkersburg Catholic for the Class A, Region IV, Section 1 title last week.

Huntington St. Joe junior guard Mychal Johnson, a University of Notre Dame commit and a candidate for the Ostrowski Player of the Year in West Virginia, is averaging 22.4 points, 7.6 rebounds, 6.5 assists and 4.6 steals per game this season to lead the Irish.

Backcourt mate Griffin Dempsey, who is also garnering high and mid-major NCAA Division I offers as a junior, is averaging 17.7 points and 4.6 assists per game.

Asia Petitte and Rachel Lee also are in double-figures for the Irish and feature nearly-identical numbers at 11 points and six rebounds per game.

Huntington St. Joe defeated Parkersburg Catholic in two regular-season contests, winning each by 33 and 25 points.

The winner advances to the Class A state tournament, which starts Wednesday in the Charleston Civic Center.