By Duane Cochran
For The Times West Virginian
FAIRMONT – For Fairmont State’s Lady Falcons, Thursday evening’s Mountain East Conference game with visiting Wheeling Jesuit at the Joe Retton Arena was all about getting back in a rhythm.
FSU, which had two of its last three games postponed due to bad weather, got back into a playing rhythm last night by halting the Lady Cardinals’ four-game winning streak with a 72-66 victory.
“We felt like we didn’t have any rhythm whatsoever as a team because of the postponements, and it’s very hard to establish whatever identity your team is going to have if you don’t have game-playing experience,” said FSU coach Steve McDonald, whose team improved to 5-4 overall and to 3-3 in the MEC with the win. “Everybody else in the country has played 12 or 14 games, and we’ve played eight until tonight.
“With this three-game stretch we have starting tonight we feel like we can get some rhythm and some consistency. We changed defenses a lot in this game and I really liked the way our kids embraced that, and I think it kept Wheeling off balance. I liked the way we played for 40 minutes.”
The trademark of this year’s FSU team is that on any given night a different player can explode on the offensive end and lead the Lady Falcons. Thursday evening junior Emily Lohr got Fairmont going early, scoring 13 of her 17 points in the opening half to help the Lady Falcons open a 40-29 lead at the break..
“We came out tonight excited to play,” said Lohr. “Before the game we were all talking and saying how we can’t afford to drop another game. We need to get on a roll here, play together and play well.
“Heading into the season we had some new players and we dropped some close games that maybe we should’ve won. We’re really still learning to play together, but I think now we’re getting more and more comfortable with that.”
When Wheeling focused on taking Lohr away, newcomer Emily Puskarich, a former three-time, first-team Class AAA All-State selection from Wheeling Park High School and a transfer from Division I Robert Morris came off the bench and in only her second game in an FSU uniform made a big impact and helped Fairmont open its first double digit lead of the game.
“It felt very good to be out there tonight because I haven’t played in a game since I don’t even know when,” said Puskarich, a freshman who nailed 4-of-5 3-point field goals and finished with 12 points. “I think I made a great decision coming here. Tonight we played with a lot of energy, and I think we played well as a team and got a nice league win.”
In the second half the Lady Falcons’ Makenzie White caught fire and took over offensively for her team. The sophomore guard finished with a career-high 25 points, 17 of which came in the second half, which helped keep the Lady Cardinals at bay. She also had a game-high nine assists and three steals as Fairmont halted its two-game losing streak.
“I think once we get into a rhythm and get going where we’re practicing and playing every few days we’re going to be fine,” said White. “Coach Mac told us you’ve got to win one, to win two in a row, and I think we can take this win tonight and build off it.
“I really think mixing up our defenses tonight kept them off balance and helped keep us focused. Now we’ve got to get ready for Concord Saturday.”
Wheeling, which fell to 5-6 overall and to 2-5 in the MEC, was led by Jaila Bryant’s 17 points. The Lady Cardinals also got 11 points from Breanna Butler and 10 from Jaana Morton.
FSU will now travel to Logan Saturday to face Concord in a 4 p.m. league contest at Logan High School. The Lady Falcons return to Fairmont Monday for a 5:30 p.m. MEC contest at the Joe Retton Arena against UVA-Wise.