By Matt Welch
Times West Virginian
Every game is a statement game for Fairmont Senior (16-1) coach Corey Hines and his Lady Polar Bears. Monday night was no different as No. 1 Fairmont Senior rolled fifth-ranked Lincoln, 62-35, at the Woody Williams Armory on Senior Night to become Big 10 Conference champions.
After a slow start to the game, the tandem of junior Kaden Whaley and senior Kelsey Morrone put their squad into a rhythm heading into the second quarter. Ending the first period on a 10-4 run, which covered the last half of the opening eight minutes.
Morrone, who has seemed to step things up lately with freshman Erica Bowles sidelined with injury, was again a decisive factor in Monday night’s contest, which saw one of the team’s leading scorers in Emily Stoller shoot just 1-of-13 from the field.
A senior, Morrone said she wouldn’t have wanted to go out any other way.
“It was good. (Emily’s) always had my back, so I told her that if you’re going to do it, that I have your back, too,” Morrone, who finished in double digits with 14 points, said.
For Hines, it was bittersweet to see his seniors, Morrone and Shania Riffle, go out with a win on senior night.
“I’m going to miss them. We came in together so it’s hard,” Hines said. “Those young ladies are my foundation.”
Along with Morrone’s big night, Whaley quietly put together another outstanding performance of 28 points and 10 rebounds, seven of which came on the offensive side.
“She’s a beast. That’s the only way I can say it,” Hines said of his junior forward. “Kaden Whaley’s one of the best offensive rebounders in the state. She does what she needs to do. I’m very proud of her.”
After leading by just five points after the first quarter, the Lady Polar Bears took a 34-17 lead into the locker room.
Fairmont Senior’s defense continued to put the pressure on as it nearly tripled the number of shots that the Lady Cougars took, Fairmont Senior taking 35 shots to Lincoln’s 13. In fact, the Lady Polar Bears made more shots (14) than Lincoln attempted, with most of those coming in the form of layups off steals or easy putbacks for Whaley on the offensive glass.
Lincoln, though, came out of the gate fired up in the third quarter with Emily Knight scoring two buckets before Fairmont Senior could put up anything. But a quick 11-4 Polar Bear run put a damper on a comeback attempt. Following that, a 10-5 Fairmont Senior run to open the fourth quarter put the No. 5 team in the state away for good.
Knight and Haley Haning led the Lady Cougars with 12 points each. Knight also added six rebounds and two blocks. Lincoln fell to 13-3 with the loss.
The big question now for the newly crowned Big 10 champs is the upcoming postseason, which starts with the sectional tournament in a week. With cross-county rival North Marion sitting pretty with a No. 3 ranking, it sets up a huge game in the coming weeks.
Hines said the matchup will be good for teams.
“That’s what you hope for,” Hines said. “Judging by how the voting has gone, (the two teams) haven’t been getting the respect they deserve. If you can come in there one and two, that’d be a great game for the fans.”
Morrone and Riffle agree, Riffle saying, “(Senior night) is emotional and upsetting, but if we go out on top in March, that’ll be a great way to end a senior year.”
The Lady Polar Bears still have one game left on their schedule with Bridgeport on Thursday at home before the sectional tournament begins.
Email Matt Welch at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow on Twitter @MattWelch_TWV.