Basketball begins season with successful opening weekend

West Liberty’s men and womens basketball teams got their seasons underway last weekend with two out of conference matchups against regional opponents. It was a mixed set of results for the Lady Hilltoppers who narrowly lost to nationally ranked California University of Pennsylvania before picking up a double overtime win against Mercyhurst, while men’s basketball went 2-0 with wins against Shepherd and California University of Pennsylvania.

The Academic, Sports and Recreation Complex played host to the Mountain East Conference and Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference Crossover Tournament last weekend that saw the men’s basketball programs of West Liberty, Wheeling, Shepherd and Cal Pa. compete in two games each. The tournament got underway with WLU facing off against the Shepherd Rams in their first competitive game since their disappointing loss to West Virginia State University in the opening round of last year’s DII National Tournament. It was an unusual slow start for the Hilltoppers, who had as many as four newcomers on the court at points during the game.

Each of the five players playing their first game for WLU gave impressive performances, but it was Alek West and Steve Cannady who stood out. West got the offense going for the Hilltoppers scoring their first points of the night to end a 6-0 losing run to start the game, while Cannady scored 16 points which was topped by only Bryce Butler, last years MEC Player of the Year who had a 30 point game.

After trailing 22-19 after 10 minutes, West Liberty started to get the ball rolling late in the first half as a 12-0 run that featured consecutive three point shots from Zach Rasile gave the home team a lead that they wouldn’t lose. They continued to dominate throughout the second half and went on to record a 91-68 win in the season opener. Their Ohio County rivals, Wheeling, started their season off with two losses in the tournament, losing to the Cal Pa. Vulcans on Friday before an overtime loss to the Rams on Saturday.

Saturday night’s primetime matchup saw the Hilltoppers take on the Cal Pa. Vulcans, who made it all the way to the Atlantic Region Championship game, setting up an enticing regional matchup on the hilltop. Butler gave West Liberty a 2-0 lead and they never looked back, with the USA under-20 international putting up a career high 35 point lead to give his team their second win of the season.

It was a much quicker start this time round for WLU, as they held a double digit lead for most of the game. What was once an 18 point lead was reduced to just a single point with just over two minutes left, with the Hilltoppers worried that they would suffer another loss after having a significant lead, which was an all too familiar result last season. Back to back threes from Rasile and Christian Montague ensured that this game would not slip through their fingers as the Toppers showed signs of learning from last season’s mistakes.

West Liberty came away with a 94-85 point win, giving them a 2-0 start to the season. They will now play another PSAC opponent at home on Wednesday night as they face off against the University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown inside the ASRC at 7 p.m. before traveling to Phillipi to begin MEC play with a game against Alderson Broaddus.

The Lady Hilltoppers travelled to Charleston, W.Va. to play in a similar crossover tournament where they would also play two talented PSAC opponents. They got their season underway with a game against the nationally ranked Cal Pa. Vulcans. The game was close for all four quarters and thanks to a late three pointer from Grace Faulk, the score was tied at 65-65 at the end of regulation and the first game of the season headed to overtime.

The Hilltoppers struggled offensively scoring just 2 points in overtime which gave the Vulcans a 70-67 win. West Liberty were without All-American point guard Audrey Tingle, who is now an assistant coach for the Toppers, and last seasons MEC Freshman of the Year Bailee Smith, which makes this performance against a regional powerhouse even more impressive.

It was another overtime thriller for the Hilltoppers on Saturday in a high scoring game against Mercyhurst that needed two periods of overtime to decide the winner. West Liberty were in control for the majority of the game, leading by as many as 14 points in the fourth quarter before the Lakers put together a 11-1 run in the final few minutes of regulation to force overtime. Both teams botched up nine points each in the first period of overtime, sending the game to double overtime.
Neither team could assert their dominance in the second period of overtime, with the scores tied at 107-107 with only a few seconds left on the clock. Karly McCutcheon drained a free throw with just 0.4 seconds left on the clock, giving the Hilltoppers a 108-107 win and a 1-1 record to start the season.

It was a career-high day for both McCutcheon and Arianna Manzay who scored an impressive 30 and 38 points respectively. The Lady Hilltoppers will now travel to Columbus for a matchup against Ohio Dominican University on Wednesday before opening conference play against Alderson Broaddus on Sunday.