Two days prior to Christmas, East Fairmont’s girls’ basketball team gave its head coach Bill Malone an early gift.

The Bees stole a North Central Athletic Conference road victory at cross-town rival West Fairmont after trailing by 13 points entering the fourth quarter.

But make no mistake about it, Malone knew his team was very fortunate and lucky to complete the comeback for a 52-51 win back on Dec. 23.

For three quarters, West was the better team and simply outplayed East.

“The way we came back, that just lets our kids know that there’s not really too many times that they do what they’re supposed to do,” Malone said after the win. “During the ballgame, we weren’t running the cuts the way we’re supposed to run them, and we were rounding too many things off.”

And while the Bees were playing that way, West took full advantage of it.

“I kept telling the girls, ‘If you’re going to do it the way you want to do it, we’re going to be in trouble here. ‘Do it the way stuff is designed to be done,’” Malone said. “So I think maybe they might see that come to light for them.”

That’s why a game is at least four quarters and 32 minutes long because eight minutes is all it takes to make or break a contest — as both teams found out.

West dropped to 1-6 following that loss, but Malone could not have cared less about that.

“I guarantee you they are the best 1-6 team in West Virginia,” Malone said at the time. “I guarantee that.”

All the Polar Bears have done since that loss is go 5-1 with their only loss coming to defending Class AAA state champion Parkersburg South by a 71-60 margin.

And as far as West head coach Meredith Anderson is concerned, the late collapse in the fourth quarter against East is far behind them.

“There’s no sense focusing on the past. You can only look forward,” the second-year coach said. “We’ve been having success since that game. We are much more positive now. And maybe that loss gave us the opportunity to come together as a team.”

If anything, that game has been a learning tool for the Polar Bears, who look to return the favor on the Bees’ home floor at 7:30 p.m. today.

“I think we’ve learned a lot from it because we know how to protect a lead now,” Anderson said. “We are much more comfortable in late-game situations, and we’re much more focused now. We’re playing to win rather than not to lose.

“So I expect us to be ready.”

Both teams enter with just two losses in conference play.

West is 6-7 overall and 4-2 in the NCAC after winning five of its last six games. The Polar Bears have losses at University and at home to East.

Meanwhile, East is 9-5 overall and 7-2 in the league with both losses coming against Morgantown. The Bees have won four of their last five games.

E-mail Andrew Manzo at dmanzo@timeswv.com.

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