By Duane Cochran
Times West Virginian
Perhaps it was Fairmont State senior point guard Kaitlin Snyder who said it best Friday afternoon here at the Charleston Civic Center.
“Now we have the opportunity for another memory to be made,” said Snyder, who scored 17 of her team-high 20 points in the second half to help lead the third-seeded Lady Falcons to a 71-63 victory over second-seeded West Liberty in the semifinals of the last West Virginia Intercollegiate Athletic Conference Women’s Basketball Tournament and earn a berth in Saturday’s championship game.
FSU, which improved to 22-9, will battle fifth-seeded Seton Hill at 1 p.m. for the tournament title. The Lady Griffins (19-12) advanced to the title game with a 61-49 victory over Charleston. The winner today will receive an automatic bid to the NCAA Division II Atlantic Regional Tournament which will be played at a site yet to be determined March 15-18.
Snyder was a freshman starter for the Lady Falcons on their 2010 team which captured the league’s tournament championship. Friday as Fairmont’s senior leader Snyder connected on 7-of-8 free throws in the game’s final 1:07 to seal the victory for her team.
While Snyder helped secure the win for the Lady Falcons, it was a number of her teammates who turned in stellar performances to put Fairmont in position to win. No less than five Lady Falcons finished in double figures in the scoring column.
Sophomore center Hailey Garrett, who picked up two early fouls, posted her team-leading 13th double-double of the season in the victory finishing with 15 points and a game-high 11 rebounds, five of which came on the offensive glass.
“When I came out of the game I was pretty upset with myself for getting the two fouls that early,” said Garrett, who lobbied FSU head coach Steve McDonald to put her back in the game in the first half. “I told coach ‘I can go back in if you need me.’”
McDonald trusted his talented center and rolled the dice putting her back in mainly on offensive possessions and Garrett responded by playing foul free for the rest of the half. She helped Fairmont erase an 18-9 West Liberty lead and close the first half on a 22-9 run during the final 8:16 to take a 31-27 advantage at the break.
“We were a lot more aggressive than they were during that time, especially on the boards,” said Snyder. “We have a lot of respect for West Liberty. We know when we play them we’re going to get a great game no matter what. Coach Mac (Steve McDonald) told us it was going to come down to a one possession game. Fortunately, it went our way today and it wasn’t.”
Veteran West Liberty coach Lynn Ullom says the final eight minutes of the first half is where his team, which finished the season 21-8, lost the game.
“Congratulations to Fairmont,” said Ullom. “They’re a very good and very proud program and most of our games with them are like this until one team can find a way to win.
“I thought the game was lost by us in the first half. That’s probably as disappointed as I’ve been in one of my teams in 22 years. We stood and watched the game. Give Fairmont credit. We’re up 18-9, their backs were against the wall and they knew at that point if they didn’t kill themselves to try to win they were going home and for that however many minutes it was, it looked like varsity girls playing junior high girls.”
During that game-changing run, FSU’s Hallie Gunnoe came off the bench and scored nine of her 11 points to help key Fairmont’s offensive surge.
“We were still in the game at that point, but we all knew we had to pick it up,” said Gunnoe, who also grabbed eight rebounds in the victory. “When I got in the game I just tried to be aggressive and make some plays for us.”
In the second half the contest was nip-and-tuck until Garrett canned a four-foot baseline jumper with 6:48 remaining to give her team a 53-52 lead it never relinquished.
Seniors Briana Welch and Tiffany Nicholson joined Snyder, Garrett and Gunnoe in double figures for the Lady Falcons with 13 and 10 points respectively. Welch scored seven of her points in the final 20 minutes, while Nicholson accounted for six of her 10 in the game’s last 11:34, including a 4-of-4 performance at the foul line in the final 2:19.
“There’s not a good team in America right now that’s playing for a championship that does it with one player,” said Fairmont State head coach Steve McDonald, who will be gunning for his third WVIAC Tournament title in the last six years. “If you look at our boxscore from today’s game we had five players in double figures. We’re definitely a basketball team which has developed itself into being multi-dimensional.”
West Liberty was led by league player of the year Hillary Southworth’s game-high 26 points. The Lady Hilltoppers also got 13 points and seven rebounds from Emily Blevins and 11 points from Meghan Wiseman.