CHARLESTON - Shepherd coach Melanie Ford used the perfect word to describe West Liberty's 88-87, double-overtime victory against the Rams in a West Virginia Conference Tournament women's quarterfinal matchup Wednesday at the Charleston Civic Center Coliseum.
''It was a battle,'' she said, ''from the very beginning, right to the end.''
West Liberty’s Jasmin Kiley (15) takes a 3-point shot over the arm of Shepherd’s Kristina Prange (24) during their WVC Tournament game Wednesday afternoon.
The No. 2-seeded Hilltoppers had to fight tooth and nail just to force the first overtime after Shepherd, the No. 7 seed, held its largest lead at 66-61 with 2:24 left to play.
After two free throws by senior Emily Blevins cut the advantage to two at 66-64, freshman Jasmin Kiley entered the game and knocked down an ice cold 3-pointer from the left corner with 26 seconds remaining to get the Toppers within one at 68-67.
''That's a play we had in our arsenal for years and years and we didn't put it in until a timeout (Wednesday),'' WLU coach Lynn Ullom said. ''That's the first time we ran it all season. It got her a look and she knocked it down.''
Following two free throws by fellow freshman Liz Flowers that evened the score at 69-69, the game headed into its first overtime only to see the Rams jump out to a 76-71 lead.
Adding to the Hilltoppers' distress, WVC Player of the Year Hilary Southworth fouled out.
Down five with a minute remaining and the nation's second-leading scorer on the bench, the Hilltoppers needed to take a breath.
''We just had to realize that Hilary was on the bench,'' Flowers said. ''She's our main scorer and the one we look to get the ball to when the shot clock is low. We just kind of told ourselves to relax.''
It was Kiley who looked the most at ease as she went to the line four straight times and knocked down all four of her freebies.
Blevins put up a layup with 30 seconds to go to tie it for the 16th time, as the two teams needed another overtime to produce a winner with the score tied at 77-77.
The teams traded four baskets each before Flowers converted a conventional three-point play to give the Toppers the lead for good, 88-85.
Not all was over as an Alex Weakland layup made it 88-87, but the Rams simply couldn't catch WLU in the final nine seconds of the game.
West Liberty plays Fairmont, which defeated Wesleyan, in a 1 p.m. semifinal Friday.
''We wanted a steal,'' Ford said. ''They did a really nice job of separating the floor out, not getting too tight where we couldn't double team or get in the passing lanes because we didn't know what they're doing. (Ullom) is a great coach. I coached against him, I played against him when I was younger and he just knows the game.
''They did a good job of playing keep away and we just couldn't get to them to foul them.''
One thing that the Rams could do was rebound. Shepherd finished with an eye-popping 62 boards (31 offensive, 31 defensive) lead by 5-foot-9 Emily Daniel's 20. The senior also added 25 points.
''That's one of the best individual performances we've ever had against us,'' Ullom said. ''We knew that coming into the game that she was a phenomenal player and I'm so glad she's graduating. I don't have to comprise a game plan against her anymore.''
Southworth led the Toppers with a game-high 27 points, while Flowers added 21 points, seven rebounds, four assists and zero turnovers in playing 49 of the game's 50 minutes.
Senior Meghan Wiseman finished with 14 points and Kiley added 11.
''I just give our kids credit,'' Ullom said. ''We could have quit several times late in the game. If you just keep working at it sometimes the ball bounces your way. This is one of those days where we're fortunate enough that the ball bounced our way.''
WLU Men Clear No. 1 in Region
INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. - The West Liberty men's basketball team appears to have distanced itself from a struggling pack as the NCAA Division II Men's Basketball Ranking Committee released its second set of Atlantic Region rankings Wednesday afternoon.
Coach Jim Crutchfield's Hilltoppers (27-1), who carry the nation's longest active winning streak of 13 games into this week's West Virginia Conference Tournament, were a consensus No. 1 pick in the 10-team regional rankings and may well have already locked up a chance to serve as an Atlantic Regional tournament host school for the fourth consecutive season.
This week's rankings included games played through Sunday, Feb. 24, and West Liberty, whose only loss was a mid-January 101-96 setback at the University of Charleston, is the only team in the region with fewer than four losses as conference tournament play gets under way.
The news wasn't as favorable for the rest of the West Virginia Conference teams as Alderson-Broaddus (No. 7 last week) and Wheeling Jesuit (No. 10 a week ago) dropped completely out of the top 10 this week while WVIAC runnerup Fairmont State slipped from No. 3 to No. 5.
The top 8 teams in the final regional rankings earn invitations to the Atlantic Region tournament, which will be hosted by the highest-seeded team with acceptable facilities.
Winston-Salem State, N.C. held onto the No. 2 spot for the second straight week despite a loss to Livingstone, N.C. while East Stroudsburg, Pa. actually moved up from No. 4 to No. 3 despite losing all three games last week. Indiana, Pa. and Fairmont State round out the top five with Livingstone, Shaw, N.C., West Chester, Pa. and Johnson C. Smith, N.C. closing out the list.
West Liberty, which has been idle since a 101-76 rout of Wheeling Jesuit on Saturday, makes its WVIAC Tournament debut on Thursday in an 8:30 p.m. quarterfinal against Pitt-Johnstown.