HUNTINGTON - Those in Huntington who love girls basketball got a Valentine's Day treat on Wednesday.
Two of West Virginia's top programs in the 2017-18 season faced off in Huntington representing some of the best within their respective classifications.
Huntington St. Joe (13-6) got a big second half from Dena Jarrells and a strong all-around effort with key plays that helped propel the Irish to a 66-52 win over Parkersburg, ranked No. 4 in Class AAA.
Jarrells finished with 20 points in the contest, including 13 in the second half. She also provided a pair of key fourth-quarter assists that helped seal the game for the Irish.
"I didn't look to score much in the first half because I was trying to look and figure out what defense they were in and what we needed to run," Jarrells said. "In the second half, we got the hang of it, got in the groove and took off from there."
Jarrells hit a 3-pointer and Paige Shy connected on two free throws early in the fourth quarter to push the Irish to its largest lead at 55-41, but Parkersburg (16-5) used its pressure defense to force turnovers and go on a mini-run. The Irish had 23 turnovers on the night.
The Big Reds whittled the lead back to single-digits but Jarrells penetrated into the Parkersburg defense and kicked out to senior Haylee Hunter for a 3-pointer that calmed the storm and put the Irish back in from 62-50 with 2:36 left.
With Parkersburg in scramble mode, Jarrells split a double-team with a behind-the-back dribble before finding freshman Hannah Roberts for a layup that iced it with 1:15 left. The play drew a big reaction from a live crowd inside the St. Joe gymnasium.
"I love playing with these girls," Jarrells said. "Most of us played against each other in middle school, so it's a lot of fun to get out here with them and show what we can do."
While Jarrells took off for the Irish in the second half, it was a pair of big shots late in the first half by Shy that gave the Irish a boost and a 31-27 lead as the teams went to the locker room.
Parkersburg had used its length and athleticism, plus the strong play of Madi Mace, to take a lead late in the second quarter, but Shy hit a pair of 3-pointers in the final 90 seconds to push the Irish ahead.
The final 3-pointer came on a hustle play from freshman Laney Whitmore, who corralled her own miss and kicked a pass out to Shy while falling to the ground.
"That was a great momentum-changer and it was a great job by Laney to get me the ball because she knew I had made my first one," Shy said.
Shy finished with 19 points and 12 rebounds for the Irish, and joined Jarrells - a fellow junior - in being leaders on the court as the Irish played its first game without head coach Shannon Lewis, who is serving a two-game suspension after being ejected in the final 10 seconds of Monday's loss to Ashland.
Interim coach Cristina Schmidt is the Huntington St. Joe middle school boys coach and communicated throughout the night with the two to get the team in its proper sets.
Schmidt, the former head coach of Calumet College of St. Joseph in Indiana, also praised Jarrells' poise in the second half handling the pressure from the point guard spot as Parkersburg sent multiple people at her.
"Before the game, I told her that I knew she could handle the ball, but if she needed help, we could send somebody middle," Schmidt said. "I trust her enough and she knows the game. She handled it really well under pressure because Parkersburg is good and they are long."
Mace led Parkersburg with 24 points, but was limited to just six in the second half after scoring 11 in the second quarter to vault Parkersburg to its brief lead. Bre Wilson also had 11 points for the Big Reds.
Roberts finished with 11 points for Huntington St. Joe - eight of which came in the first quarter as the Irish jumped to a 19-13 lead after one.
Huntington St. Joe returns to action against Russell on Thursday night.
PARKERSBURG 13 14 14 11 - 52: Leggett 1, Crites 8, Mace 24, Kirby 6, Clark 1, Wilson 11, Richards 1
HUNTINGTON ST. JOE 19 12 19 16 - 66: Adkins 6, Whitmore 5, Hunter 3, Jarrells 20, Kay 2, Roberts 11, Shy 19