CHARLESTON - Top-seeded West Virginia Wesleyan took advantage of an injury-depleted West Liberty women's team Wednesday night and ended the Hilltoppers' season with an 82-59 victory in a West Virginia Conference Tournament quarterfinal.
West Liberty (15-15) had split the season series with the league champion Bobcats (22-6) but suffered a serious blow in the first 2 minutes of Wednesday's game when sophomore guard Hillary Southworth - the team's second-leading scorer at 16.7 ppg. - had to be helped off the court with an apparent leg injury and was unable to return.
Southworth's teammates tried to pick up the scoring slack in her absence and battled Wesleyan on virtually even terms for the first 10 minutes of the opening half.
A Kayla Ayers 3-pointer capped a 7-0 West Liberty run and gave the Hilltoppers their largest lead of the night, 23-18, with 10:55 showing on the first-half clock.
That proved to be the high-water mark for the Black and Gold, however, as the Bobcats' size and depth began to take its toll.
First-team All-WVIAC standout Lydia Bridenbaugh accounted for seven of Wesleyan's 11 points during an 11-0 run that put the regular-season champs ahead to stay, 29-23, and the Bobcats kept right on rolling to take a 48-30 halftime lead.
Wesleyan dominated the backboards by a 24-12 margin in the opening 20 minutes and had a huge edge from the foul line, hitting 11 of 13 free throws while the Hilltoppers didn't shoot a free throw in the first half.
Ayers and freshman Bri Kamarec combined on a 9-0 West Liberty run in the first 3 minutes of the second half that trimmed the deficit to 50-39, but Wesleyan pushed the margin back out to 20 points, 62-42, with 13:30 remaining and the Hilltoppers never threatened again.
It was a frustrating end to what had been a frustrating season for veteran coach Lynn Ullom.
"It just seemed like anything that could go wrong, did go wrong," Ullom said. "It's enough of a challenge to play the No. 1 seed but when you lose one of the top scorers in the conference right at the beginning, you're facing a real uphill battle. We had some pretty good moments this season but (Wednesday night) wasn't one of them."
Ayers led all scorers in her final game in a West Liberty uniform with 23 points. She also led the team with seven rebounds and three blocked shots. Kamarec and Emily Blevins joined Ayers in double-figures with 12 points each.
Bridenbaugh paced West Virginia Wesleyan with 22 points while fellow first-team All-WVIAC selection Jamie Kaufman added 18 points and 11 rebounds. Daria Abros'kina and Danae Hill rounded out the double-figure scorers for the Bobcats with 17 and 16 points, respectively.
Wesleyan advances to a 1 p.m. quarterfinal Friday against No. 4 seed Shepherd.
Ayers added three more 3-pointers to her nation's-best total and finished the season with 105 ... The senior standout ranks among the school's career leaders in points (1,039), rebounds (559) and 3-point field goals (233) ....Senior guard Erica Hershberger had two assists to take over the No. 10 spot among West Liberty's career leaders with 339.