Glenville St. women to play for MEC title
Pioneers take down West Lib
WHEELING — When Glenville State coach Kim Stephens’ Pioneers took a 26-point lead over West Liberty with 3:59 remaining in the third quarter, not once did she think the game was over. In fact, she knew that coach Kyle Cooper’s Hilltoppers were going to make a run.
After all, her team was up by 29 against the Hilltoppers during the regular season at Glenville and the Hilltoppers were able to pull within single digits.
Turns out, Stephens was right. West Liberty started hitting shots and got within four points with 1:52 remaining.
But a huge 3-pointer by Ty Armstrong was good enough to kill the momentum as the Pioneers secured a 98-85 victory over the Hilltoppers in a Mountain East Conference Tournament semifinal matchup Saturday at WesBanco Arena.
“It wasn’t so much deja vu. I knew it was coming,” Stephens said about the Hilltoppers’ run. “I would have been shocked and almost speechless if it didn’t come. It was more like watching the clock. Just trying to run the clock down on offense and take good shots. I wasn’t surprised whatsoever. We talked about it. They can shoot the ball so well and can get their way back into it. You can be up 40 on that team and they would never be out of it.”
It was a cold-shooting first half for both teams as they went a combined 2 of 22 from 3. But things started to heat up after they came out of the locker room.
Brandi Beader hit a 3 for the Hilltoppers to put the score at 44-36 in favor of Glenville. The Pioneers went on a 15-0 run to take its first 20-point lead of the contest.
Around the four-minute mark, Zakiyah Winfield hit a shot to give the Pioneers their largest lead of the game as the score read 67-41.
“To a testament to our players, we played incredibly hard the entire game,” Cooper said. “The problem for us early on there was just that gap of seven to 11 points throughout the whole first half was dictated on the little things their system does to you. They sped us up, they got second chance points, got points off turnovers. That’s the difference in the game while we’re not shooting great from the field.”
The Hilltoppers put together a small spurt and scored 12 of the final 15 points of the third quarter to cut it to 16, 75-59.
After an Armstrong bucket to put the score at 83-67 with 7:32 to go in the fourth, West Liberty went on its second run and got within striking distance. Starting with a Marissa Brown bucket, the Hilltoppers scored the next 10 points that was capped by a Morgan Brunner 3, her fifth of the contest to put it at 83-77 in favor of Glenville.
With Brunner’s fifth trifecta, she set an MEC Tournament record with 13 total, breaking former Fairmont State and Wheeling Park player Emily Puskarich’s total of 12.
She finished with 21 points, hitting all five long shots in the second half after going 0 of 6 in the first half.
“She has given us tremendous lift,” Cooper said of Brunner. “And the thing I’m so proud about Morgan is it didn’t take very long to buy in. You’re talking about a player that would start for a lot of teams in our league and assumes the sixth man role, she never complains about it. She accepts her role and plays starter minutes. Morgan has earned the right to earn the respect of her teammates more than anything. I’m very proud of her.”
The Pioneers responded with an Armstrong bucket, but a Taylor Johnson and Brown basket afterwards got the Hilltoppers within four, 85-81, with 1:52 left.
However, Armstrong drained a crucial 3 and the Pioneers went 4 of 4 from the foul line to go back up by double digits.
“I can tell you this, I have a group of fighters on my team,” Cooper said. “We were down 20-plus to a team, that I believe is the best basketball team in our region and we clawed back in to cut it within three or four twice. This team is full of fighters that love each other and play for each other and I would neve want to coach another group than them this time of the year.”
Marissa Brown had a game-high 32 points and 15 rebounds for the Hilltoppers while Johnson supplied 18.
Re’Shawna Stone led the way for Glenville with 30 points while Armstrong netted 14. Blaize Burgess (13) and Zakiyah Winfield (10) both rounded out the double figure scorers with 10.
Even with the loss, Cooper still believes his team deserves another game. With the regional rankings coming out tonight, the Hilltoppers sat at the No. 8 spot going into the tournament. The top eight of each region get in.
“These (36 hours are going to be nerve-racking,” Cooper said. “We’re going to stick together and continue to love each other. But I will tell you, if we aren’t one of the eight best teams to get in this regional, I’ll be pretty disappointed. This team deserves another game. When you look at our strength of schedule and our losses, we have one of the highest strength of schedules in the entire region. We don’t have a bad loss. Our league is deep, it’s talented and we have a bunch of teams that deserve to be in this thing. So, I’ll be highly disappointed if we don’t get in, but our league isn’t taken care of.”
The Pioneers will take on Charleston at 1 p.m. today in the championship game.
The 25-5 Golden Eagles got a game-high 33 poitns from Raziyah Farrington in a 68-59 victory versus the third-seeded Mountain Lions of Concord, which ended the campaign at 23-7.
Brooklyn Pannell added 16 points for No. 2 seed Charleston, which also received 11 rebounds from Anna Hayton.
Concord was led by Andreanna Pool’s 19 points. Teammate Riley Fitzwater flirted with a triple-double, going for 12 points along with game-highs of 12 rebounds and eight blocked shots.