For 33 minutes, Fairmont State’s Lady Falcons gave league-leading West Virginia Wesleyan all it wanted and more here Saturday afternoon in the regular-season finale for both teams at the Joe Retton Arena.
However, with the game on the line the streaking Lady Bobcats upped their defensive intensity, made 11-of-12 free throws in the final 4:37 and pulled away from FSU to record an 80-65 victory and claim only their second regular season West Virginia Conference championship.
“In the last seven or eight minutes they just took it to us harder than we took it to them,” said FSU junior point guard Kaitlin Snyder, who finished with 20 points and five assists. “Offensively, nothing was really clicking for us down the stretch and on the other end they were hitting shots and hitting their free throws.
“I feel like we mentally didn’t come ready to play today, but we’ve got to let it go. They played better than us today. They deserved the win and obviously they deserved the conference championship.”
The win, Wesleyan’s seventh in a row and its 12th in 13 outings, allowed the Lady Bobcats to finish the regular season 21-6 overall and 18-4 in the WVC. It also permitted Wesleyan to
win a tight race for the league title over second place Concord University and third place Glenville State College.
West Virginia Wesleyan earned a first-round bye for the annual WVC Tournament which gets under way Monday. The Bobcats will face the Davis & Elkins-West Liberty winner Wednesday in the quarterfinals at the Charleston Civic Center.
Fairmont State, on the other hand, closed out the regular season with a 17-9 overall record and a 14-8 league mark. The Lady Falcons finished fifth in the 15-team league standings and will host a first-round WVC Tournament game Monday evening at 6:30 p.m. at the Joe Retton Arena against No. 12 Ohio Valley University (9-19, 6-16). FSU defeated OVU 86-72 in the only meeting between the teams this season way back on Dec. 1.
Leading 57-55 with 7:22 remaining, Wesleyan went on an 12-3 run over the course of the next 2:45 to stretch its lead to 11 at 69-58 with 4:37 left to play. The Lady Bobcats then used their impressive 11-of-12 performance at the charity stripe to help secure the victory.
“They’re a very good team and a very tough team,” said FSU freshman center Hailey Garrett, who led her team with 21 points, four rebounds and three steals. “They played a solid 40 minutes. Their first half wasn’t their best, but they were solid in the second half and did a good job of putting the game away down the stretch.
“I really felt like we were so close today and that makes this loss tough, but they just outplayed us at the end.
“Now we have to get ready for Monday night and the tournament. I like our chances. I think we’ve got a good team. We just have to play hard for the entire 40 minutes, take games one at a time and not look past anyone.”
FSU also got 16 points from Emily Lohr and six points from Brianna Welch in Saturday's loss.
Wesleyan was led by senior center Jamie Kaufman, who finished with 23 points and six rebounds. Daria Abros’kina chipped in 19 points and seven boards, while the league's leading scorer senior guard Lydia Bridenbaugh finished with 18 points and six rebounds. Twelve of her 18 points came in the decisive second half, including six free throws in the final 4:06.