By Cody Shook, Sports Editor
This past weekend, Jim Crutchfield’s Hilltoppers traveled to Charleston, W. Va. and beat Glenville State, Wheeling Jesuit University and Fairmont State to take home their first Mountain East Conference tournament championship in school history.
In the first round, the Hilltoppers took on the Pioneers of Glenville State College, and the game was a lot closer than what most people expected it to be as the Pioneers came into the game with a 12-15 record overall with their biggest win coming against Wheeling Jesuit University. When these teams faced off in the regular season, the Hilltoppers got the season sweep, but three points decided the first game while 11 points decided their second match-up.
In the tournament, West Liberty had the lead at halftime by the score of 36-33, but Glenville didn’t back down as the second half was tightly contested with neither team getting a big lead. With just over a minute left in the game, Dan Monteroso knocked down a three-point field goal to go up on the Pioneers and the Hilltoppers never gave the lead back. West Liberty won this quarterfinal game by a score of 75-71 with Monteroso leading the way with 22 points and five rebounds. Their next game was Saturday against Wheeling Jesuit University.
A week after losing to the Cardinals in triple overtime, West Liberty got their revenge in the semi-final game of the conference tournament. They came out of the gates on fire, knocking down shot after shot while shooting over 70 percent from the field for most of the first half. At halftime, West Liberty was on top 57-38 and Head Coach Crutchfield did admit that the second half was difficult to play because “playing with a lead that big is hard because you don’t want to take your foot off the gas but you also don’t want to go fast, miss your shots and let Jesuit back into the game.”
The Cardinals did narrow the margin in the second half, but they were never really in it as the Hilltoppers tacked on 48 more points and shot an incredible 56.5 percent from the field and 38.5 percent from behind the three-point line. West Liberty came away with the 105-95 victory by the help of senior guard Devin Hoehn as he scored a season-high and game-high 34 points and added four assists. The Hilltoppers played for the Championship the next day at 3:30 p.m., against the number one team in the country.
During the regular season, West Liberty and Fairmont State split their season series with each of them winning on their home court. However, when these two nationally ranked teams faced off at the Charleston Civic Center, West Liberty came away with the win and a conference championship.
Both teams started the game slow, but the Hilltoppers started slower as they were only able to throw 29 on the scoreboard by halftime. West Liberty was never phased because they knew that it was their time to shine. Sophomore guard David Dennis stepped up big, scoring a game high 23 points and five steals. Down the stretch it was a very exciting game with the Hilltoppers closing the gap on nearly every possession and finally taking the lead for the first time in the game with one minute left in the game.
To win the game, the Hilltoppers scored 11 of the last 12 points in the game. Hoehn added 18 points of his own as West Liberty won by the score of 67-65 to receive the automatic bid to the Atlantic Region Tournament. Hoehn was also named tournament MVP.
The Hilltoppers have won five of the last six regional championships, played in three of the last four NCAA Division II Final Fours and have their sights set for their eighth straight trip to the Sweet 16. The regional tournament seedings were announced last Sunday night and West Liberty was placed at the three seed with their first round opponent being none other than Wheeling Jesuit University. Fairmont State earned the number one seed, which means they get to host the tournament in Fairmont, W. Va.
West Liberty will play their first game of the tournament on Saturday, March 11 against the Wheeling Jesuit Cardinals in their fourth meeting of the year. If the Hilltoppers can win the game against the Cardinals, they will play against either Shippensburg or Virginia Union depending on who wins their match-up also on Saturday, March 11. The championship game will be played on Sunday, March 12.
For more information on the men’s basketball team, log onto hilltoppersports.com, and be sure to grab the next issue of the Trumpet for more game previews and player profiles.
Photo credit: mountaineast.org