Some say timing is everything.
Central Catholic coach Steve Pfahler thinks his latest team to reach the Division I girls basketball regional semifinals has been right on time playing its best basketball of the season.
"I think our kids are more focused now than I've seen them, and they're excited," said Pfahler, whose team will face Strongsville in a semifinal tonight at Norwalk. "Hopefully, we'll get composed and do what we're capable of doing."
The Irish (17-7) have pulled together in recent weeks. They played second-fiddle for much of the season to City League champion Waite, but are now on a roll.
Central - winners of four straight, including a gutsy 54-45 victory over City League foe Start in a district final on Saturday - are a team on a mission.
"From the beginning of the season up until recently, it seems like we've been on a roller-coaster ride," Pfahler said. "Right now, I think we've become more mentally tough and we're more focused. They're starting to mature."
Meanwhile, Findlay (19-4) is a team that has been steady from the start. The Trojans - paced by Carlee Roethlisberger, the area's leading scorer at 22.3 points per game - are scheduled to meet Brunswick (19-4) tonight at 6:15 p.m. in the first semifinal at Norwalk. The Central-Strongsville matchup will tip off approximately a half-hour after the completion of the opening game.
Pfahler's Irish are back in a regional for the first time since the 2000-01 season. That team was a proven group that had won the City League championship and finished the regular season ranked 11th in the state.
This season Central finished second to Waite during the regular season and fell to Waite in the City League title game.
Pfahler credits the Irish's late-season success to a team that has worked diligently "behind-the-scenes" to improve on "team and unity." As the season progressed, he noticed the strides the team has made, particularly from a confidence standpoint.
The Irish reached the regional semifinals by holding off the Spartans, who came within a basket of tying Central on four occasions late in the contest.
"That's where we've grown the most," Pfahler said. "We're more consistent. In the past [in close games], we might've caved a little bit."
The Irish have leaned on a couple of confident underclassmen in sophomore center Brianna Jones and junior guard Sharise Calhoun.
Jones, a 6-foot-2 post, has been a force around the basket. She's been good for 12.6 points and 9.8 rebounds per contest. She produced 10 points and seven rebounds against Start.
Calhoun, a 5-7 playmaker, has come on strong since returning from a midseason injury. Her team-high 13 points against Start was just above her season average of 11 points per game.
Paige Weaver and Katelyn Nowacki have been key reserves for Central. Weaver and Nowacki contributed 11 and 10 points, respectively, against Start.
"This is pretty special, because if you told me a month ago we were getting ready to go to regionals I'd say, 'No way,'•" Pfahler said. "The City League is so much stronger now and that really helps."
Strongsville (20-2) enters the game riding a 13-game win streak. Leah Kendro, who scored a team-high 18 points in a district final win over Solon, leads an attack that thrives on taking the ball to the basket.
"They're a very fundamentally sound team," Pfahler said of the Mustangs.
"They like to have an open post and prefer to attack the basket pretty hard.
"They're going to attack the basket off the drive from the weave out front."
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