By Duane Cochran
For the Times West Virginian
That best describes the performance Monday evening of Fairmont State’s Lady Falcons in the second half of their 68-41 victory over visiting Pitt-Johnstown at the Joe Retton Arena.
UPJ came into the game having won six of its last seven outings and 10 of its last 13. The only recent setback for the Lady Mountain Cats came by six points to league-leading Glenville State.
Fairmont, on the other hand, had dropped two of its last three and five of its last eight.
On Monday, however, the Lady Falcons returned to form thanks to a suffocating second-half defense that held UPJ to just five field goals and 13 total points.
“I’m really, really proud of our kids tonight for their efforts,” said FSU coach Steve McDonald, who watched his team improve to 15-8 overall and to 13-5 in the West Virginia Intercollegiate Athletic Conference. “We had
an idea of what we wanted to do tonight defensively against them, but no matter what you design if your players don’t buy into it and don’t execute it, then it doesn’t work. Tonight they really bought into what we wanted them to do and played extremely hard. I think this was probably our best half of defense that we’ve played in my 13 years here, especially given the fact that Pitt-Johnstown is a very good basketball team and was playing very well coming in here.”
Fairmont held UPJ to a 5-of-32 shooting performance in the second half (15.6 percent) and held the league’s second-leading scorer Kaitlynn Fratz, who came into the contest averaging 19.6 points per outing, to zero points for the first time in her college career. Her previous season-low of points this season was nine. Fratz did not play in the game’s final nine minutes.
“We haven’t been playing very good defense lately and tonight we all got together and realized that we needed to play good defense to win,” said FSU’s Tiffany Nicholson, who finished with 12 points, three steals and three rebounds. “When we play defense like we did tonight we’re just a much better all-around team. Good defense leads to good offense for us.”
Fairmont opened an 18-6 lead early on UPJ only to watch the Lady Mountain Cats explode on a 17-3 run to take a short-lived 23-21 lead with 3:33 left in the opening half. The teams then settled for a 28-28 tie at the break.
In the second half FSU senior point guard Kaitlin Snyder wasted no time keying a game-changing 16-5 run during the first 7:30 to help the Lady Falcons open a 44-33 advantage with 12:32 remaining.
After that, the contest wasn’t close. Snyder scored 10 of her game-high 21 points on the run.
“Our full-court pressure defense really helped us tonight,” said Snyder, who also grabbed eight rebounds in the win. “Tiffany got a lot of steals for us off of that and everyone contributed tonight, which was a key. We needed this win. We were coming off of a bad loss to State and we needed to get back on track.
“Everything clicked for us offensively and defensively. We spread things out a little more on offense and I think that helped us. We knew Pitt-Johnstown had a very good team. We played them early on and only beat them by three. We knew they had a couple of very good players and we tried to key in on them and take them away, and for the most part I think we did a good job of that.”
FSU’s Hailey Garrett, who finished with 18 points and five rebounds, agreed.
“We knew we had to get a win tonight and we knew we had to play hard to do it,” said Garrett, who tallied 10 of her points in the second half. “We definitely did that. This win kind of re-motivated us.
“We’ve got to pick it up here during the remainder of the regular season, play like we know we can play, and I think we’ll be fine.”
Hallie Gunnoe chipped in eight points and eight rebounds for FSU, while Emily Lohr grabbed a game-high nine rebounds and had three points.
UPJ, which entered the game just one spot behind FSU in the league standings, fell to 13-8 overall and to 11-8 in the WVIAC. The Lady Mountain Cats were led by Nicole Carmen, who had 13 points, and Inaya Stephenson, who finished with 10.
FSU, which remained third in the conference standings, will host Alderson-Broaddus in its next outing Thursday at 5:30 p.m. at the Joe Retton Arena. The Lady Battlers have won three of their last four games.