In a game that was a bit out of control for the first 35 minutes, it was Fairmont State’s ability to stay under control in the final five minutes that ultimately made the difference.
FSU erased a two-point deficit in the final 4:34 by outscoring visiting California (Pa.) University 13-5 to record an important 67-61 Atlantic Regional victory over the Lady Vulcans.
“We grinded out a win tonight,” said veteran FSU coach Steve McDonald, whose team improved to 2-0. “It wasn’t pretty for either team. They turned the ball over. We turned the ball over. They did some things defensively which caused us trouble and they were spreading us out on offense, but I just really liked the way our kids stuck together. There was a point in the second half where we were down four or six and we just really focused and played well as a team from that point on.
“This was the second game of the year for both schools, and I’ll tell you this — the fans tonight really got their money’s worth. That was a very intense game. It was as intense as a conference game in February.”
Indeed it was, and statistically it was about as close as a game could get.
Both teams turned the ball over a plethora of times. Cal finished with 26 turnovers. FSU had 24. The rebounds were dead even at 35 apiece. Cal shot 35.8 percent from the field (19-of-53, including 4-of-17 from 3-point range) and 86.4 percent from the foul line (19-of-22). Fairmont shot 39.6 percent from the floor (21-of-53, including 4-of-14 from 3-point range) and 84.0 percent at the charity stripe (21-of-25). Cal was called for 24 fouls, while Fairmont committed 18.
The difference, though, was FSU’s ability to execute down the stretch. Makenzie White tied the score at 56 with a pair of free throws to start an 8-0 run by the Lady Falcons, which gave them control of the slug fest for good.
Back-to-back buckets by Hailey Garrett in the paint and a 12-foot baseline jumper by true freshman Diedra Combs gave FSU a 62-56 advantage with 2:23 left to play.
“Whenever you get the ball in a game like this with everything on the line, you’ve got to try to step up when you can,” said Garrett, who scored six of her 12 points in the final 7:18 of the game. “That’s all I was doing, trying to step up for my team. It certainly wasn’t just me. Several people on this team tonight stepped up at key times. Hallie (Gunnoe), Brianna (Innocent) and Emily (Lohr) all carried us at times and Makenzie and I got our opportunities late and were able to take advantage of them. This was just a really good team win for us.”
Despite the late six-point deficit, Cal refused to fold. True freshman guard Miki Glenn, the former West Virginia high school player of the year from Bridgeport, canned 3-of-4 free throws to pull the Lady Vulcans to within three at 62-59 with 1:25 to play. After an FSU turnover, Cal’s Ashley Hines hit a driving layup with 48 seconds remaining to make it 62-61.
Again, Fairmont couldn’t come up with points and Cal had a chance to hit the potential game-winner but failed. Emma Mahady, who finished with a game-high 23 points and burned FSU for much of the game with big buckets, was off the mark on a 17-foot jumper with eight seconds left and White cleared the rebound for Fairmont, dribbled around and was fouled in the backcourt with 4.3 seconds remaining.
At the other end White calmly sank both free throw attempts to make it 64-61. On the ensuing inbounds pass, Glenn stepped over the baseline attempting to inbound the ball and turned it back over to FSU. The Lady Falcons then found a wide open Lohr under the basket, who hesitated to run clock, then made a layup and was fouled with two seconds left. She then sank the impending free throw to seal the victory for FSU.
“It was a total team effort tonight,” said White. “I feel like I’ve got to take control down the stretch, slow everything down and get us in the right sets or a set play, whatever Coach Mac wants to run, because I’m the point guard in that situation and that’s my job.
“On those last free throws I just tried to concentrate and focus on putting them in, and I did. Once I hit those I felt like we had it won. This was a big win for us. Last year I understand they beat us pretty good, so to come back this year and beat them is huge for our program.”
White, who struggled shooting from the field, turned in a solid 14-of-16 performance at the foul line and led the Lady Falcons with 20 points and five assists. She was joined in double figures by Garrett, who as noted finished with 12 points, and Gunnoe, Innocent and Lohr, who all chipped in 10 points apiece. Gunnoe also grabbed a game-high nine rebounds for Fairmont.
In addition to Mahady’s 23 points, Cal, which fell to 0-2 with the loss, got 10 points from both Glenn and Elena Antonenko.
Fairmont State will return to action with another tough in-region test Saturday when it visits Indiana (Pa.) University for a 5:30 p.m. game.