WEST LIBERTY - There wasn't supposed to be a group to rival the one West Liberty put on the floor three seasons ago. The prevailing thought was the careers and shear numbers put up by Corey Pelle, John Wolosinczuk, Jordan Fortney and Barry Shetzer, would end up standing the test of time.
Turns out it was only the beginning.
There was a trio of wide-eyed, fresh-faced kids that played roles on that Final Four squad. Now seniors, Alex Falk, Tim Hausfeld and Chris Morrow have written their own unbelievable story, capping off their home careers Tuesday night with an 86-63 victory against Indiana, Pa., for the right to play in their third consecutive Elite 8, beginning a week from Thursday in Louisville.
Along the way this group lost exactly one time at the ASRC, and Tuesday tied Kentucky Wesleyan's all-time NCAA Division II record for victories in a four-year span, with 127.
''Hopefully we can break it down in Louisville,'' Hausfeld said.
Now they have a chance to do something no West Liberty team has - win a national championship. Falk, who passed Pelle for fifth on the all-time scoring list at the school, isn't being cocky when he says the Hilltoppers should be going after a second consecutive crown. It's a team-wide feeling that it let one slip through the fingers.
''Last year when we lost, we took it hard all summer and all year,'' he said of a 91-90 upset at the hands of Stonehill, Mass. ''That should have been our year.
''We're going to make this year our year.''
Would you bet against them?
If these three farm kids from Ohio have taught us anything, it's to never count them out. Not even when a team like Indiana goes on an 11-2 run early in the second half to ties things up at 48-48.
Morrow and Hausfeld responded with two 3-pointers each and the Toppers were off to the races, which is a beautiful slice of irony considering the next stop on the tournament trail is Louisville.
''We play as a team and we play the way you should,'' Hausfeld said. '' That's what's really driven us, is last year's loss to Stonehill.
''We've got some of the greatest fans up here. It's a great community and that really makes everything so easy.''
Morrow, often overlooked for some reason, is one of four 1,000-point scorers on this team. He had the best three-game stretch of his career in the Atlantic Regional, and took home Most Oustanding Player for his effort.
''I don't think you ever dream of something like this,'' Morrow said. ''You wake up every day as a young kid thinking of winning the big game and being in that moment.
''It's bittersweet because we'll never play in front of these fans, in this gym again. I guess you could say we did our business in four years.''
Added Coach Jim Crutchfield: ''He was huge in the conference tournament and huge in this tournament. I know he's happy about it, but his teammates are thrilled for him.
''That's part of being a team.''
And now they're a part of reaching heights that were previously thought of as unattainable.
''That class was a great group of people and we learned from them,'' Falk said of his predecessors. ''We were all part of their run and it hurt us just as much as it hurt them.''
The key, Crutchfield said, is a never-say-die attitude, much the same as the one that was displayed during Tuesday's second half.
''You look at how they play - they play hard because they don't want to lose,'' he said of the seniors. ''They've been here for the whole four years and they're all West Lib guys.
''They've been true blue, team players all along.''
And they're 127-8. Let that sink in for a minute.
Shawn Rine can be reached via e-mail at email@example.com