By Duane Cochran
Times West Virginian
Red-hot West Liberty withstood a furious second-half comeback bid by Fairmont State Saturday afternoon at the Joe Retton Arena to win the battle for second place in the West Virginia Intercollegiate Athletic Conference, 72-62.
The Lady Hilltoppers, who have now won eight of their last nine outings, improved to 17-6 overall and to 15-4 in the league. The victory went a long way toward helping West Liberty lock up the No. 2 position in the final league standings behind Glenville State. The Lady Hilltoppers, however, still have three conference games remaining.
FSU, on the other hand, fell to 16-9 overall and to 14-6 in the league. The Lady Falcons are currently third in the 15-team WVIAC standings and with wins in their final two league contests of the year can secure a third-place finish in the conference.
Saturday, West Liberty closed out the first half on a 15-2 run over the course of the final 6:13 to take a 33-20 advantage to the halftime locker room. That game-changing run would prove to be the difference in the contest for the Lady Hilltoppers.
“Our defense late in the first half, especially when Hailey Garrett got in foul trouble and left the game, was exceptional,” said veteran West Liberty coach Lynn Ullom. “We didn’t give them very many clean looks during that span and we were just efficient enough offensively to open the 13-point lead.”
Led by senior center Meghan Wiseman, who scored a game-high 26 points, including 17 in the second half, West Liberty extended its lead to as many as 19 at 50-31 with 11:45 remaining before Fairmont rallied to make it interesting. Led by Emily Lohr, Kaitlin Snyder and Briana Welch FSU put together a 15-2 run of its own to trim the Lady Hilltoppers’ lead to six with 7:37 left to play. Four times Fairmont had the lead down to six in the last seven minutes, but the Lady Falcons could get no closer.
“We were down 19 and cut the lead to six and we did that playing extremely hard and with a great deal of intensity,” said FSU coach Steve McDonald. “That’s what we spoke to our players about after the game and that’s what we want to focus on going into this last week of the regular season.
“I’m pleased with the competitive effort our kids showed to cut into that lead, but I did tell them you can’t spot a good team like West Liberty a 13-point lead. We beat them in the second half, but it wasn’t enough.”
Ullom says he knew the Lady Falcons would make a run at his team, but he was pleased with the way his players responded to the challenge.
“Anyone who’s been around me much knows how much I respect Kaitlin Snyder,” said Ullom. “I think she’s a once in a decade type of player that you get to coach. Now, they had some other players make plays for them in the second half too, but I could just tell from her body language that she was determined not to lose. She attacked, attacked and attacked and hit a few shots for them and everybody for them jumped on her back and made it a game there down the stretch.
“The thing I’ll give our kids the most credit for was when Fairmont made the nice run on us we didn’t fold. We got our legs back underneath us, ran a couple of set plays and got baskets out of them and pushed the lead back out.”
Hillary Southworth posted a double-double for the Lady Hilltoppers in the victory. She finished with 19 points and a game-high 11 rebounds. She scored 12 of her points in the second half. West Liberty also got 16 points from Liz Flowers.
Snyder, Lohr and Welch led FSU with 17, 16 and 12 points respectively. Snyder scored 13 of her points in the second half, Lohr, who also grabbed a team-high seven rebounds, tallied 14 of hers in the final 20 minutes and Welch scored eight of hers after the break. Fairmont also got 10 points and six rebounds from Garrett.
The Lady Falcons return to the court Monday evening with a non-conference home game against Washington Adventist. Tip off at the Joe Retton Arena is scheduled for 6 p.m.