By Duane Cochran
Times West Virginian
Six minutes into Wednesday night’s quarterfinal round West Virginia Intercollegiate Athletic Conference Women’s Basketball Tournament game between third-seeded Fairmont State and 11th-seeded West Virginia Wesleyan, it looked as if the outcome might be similar to the one the teams had during their only regular-season meeting — a 20-point Lady Bobcats win.
But on this night, Fairmont State had other plans.
Trailing 12-4, the Lady Falcons erupted on a 31-10 run over the course of the final 13:40 of the opening half to build a 13-point halftime lead en route to a 65-54 victory.
“The first time we played them they killed us by 20 points, so that gave us a lot of motivation to come out tonight and play hard,” said FSU senior point guard Kaitlin Snyder, who finished with 15 points and became just the 12th player in conference history and only the second in Fairmont State history to go over 2,000 points in her career. “We had a rough start, but we settled down and got it going on defense. That’s where it started for us.
“We didn’t want to go home. That’s the bottom line. We shot well. We played well as a team, executed what we needed to execute and ended with a win.”
Snyder, who also had seven rebounds and six assists in last night’s victory, now has 2,008 career points. Fairmont State’s all-time leader is Kristen Gattuso (2001-05), who finished her career with 2,041 points.
The victory improved the Lady Falcons to 21-9 on the year and sets up a semifinal meeting Friday with second-seeded West Liberty at 1 p.m. The Hilltoppers (21-7) reached the semis by virtue of an 88-87 double-overtime victory over Shepherd. FSU and West Liberty split their regular-season meetings.
After the rocky start, Fairmont hit on all cylinders in Wednesday’s victory over the Lady Bobcats. The Lady Falcons shot 49 percent from the field (24-of-49), out-rebounded Wesleyan 41-34 and forced the Lady Bobcats to shoot 31.9 percent from the floor (22-of-69).
Five Lady Falcons finished in double figures in the victory, led by Briana Welch’s game-high 18 points. The senior guard, who is battling illness, was a perfect 7-of-7 from the field in the win and went 4-of-4 at the foul line against her former teammates. She also grabbed seven rebounds.
“We talked a lot about the Michael Jordan syndrome where if you’re a little bit sick or a lot sick you tend to take that edge off of the roughness and let the game come to you,” said FSU coach Steve McDonald. “When you let the game come to you and you’re good players, you usually play well, and Bri did that tonight.”
“I’m not 100 percent, but I tried to give it my all tonight,” said Welch, who scored 12 of her points in the second half to help FSU build a 61-34 lead before Wesleyan rallied late to make the final score respectable. “I tried to get other people open first, and that’s kind of what allowed me to be open.”
Hailey Garrett posted her team-leading 12th double-double performance of the year to aid in the victory. She finished with 11 points and a game-high 13 rebounds. Fairmont also got 10 points, seven rebounds and five assists from senior Tiffany Nicholson and 10 points, four assists and three boards off the bench from sophomore Hallie Gunnoe.
“Like Kaitlin said, we turned things around tonight on the defensive end,” said Nicholson. “We got out on their shooters and held them to one shot on a lot of their possessions by hitting the glass hard. Once we were able to do that, we got out in transition and got some points on fast breaks. We’re a better team when we can run and when we share the ball, and we did that tonight pretty well.”
West Virginia Wesleyan, the defending WVIAC Tournament champions, finished the season at 9-18.
“I thought we’d come out tonight and be more competitive,” said Wesleyan coach Jackie Devane. “We got down early and couldn’t find our shots, and then it showed on the defensive end. We didn’t play very good defense.”
The Lady Bobcats were led by Brittany Williams, who came off the bench and finished with 15 points and five rebounds. She was the lone Wesleyan player to reach double figures in the scoring column in the game.