WEST LIBERTY - It seemed like Wheeling Jesuit had survived the storm.
In the end, however, the damage had already been done.
Despite battling back from an 18-point deficit, and actually taking the lead twice, Wheeling Jesuit fell to homestanding West Liberty 71-66 Saturday at the ASRC.
In the end, West Liberty coach Lynn Ullam could breathe a sigh of relief.
"We make every game interesting," Ullam said. "It's making me lose my hair and I didn't have much hair to begin with. I thought we did a decent job of milking the clock down late and our defense in the second half was pretty good."
It had to be.
West Liberty rode the wave of three big runs in the first half to build what appeared to be a safe 32-14 lead.
Bri Kamarec started the first run with a couple of threes. Kierra Simpson and Liz Flowers were big on a couple of others in building the lead to 18.
After the final television timeout of the first half, Jesuit caught a wave of its own.
Over a four-minute span Jesuit outscored the Hilltoppers 13-0 to end the half down 32-27, but it had to feel closer than that.
Finally, Jesuit caught West Liberty at 36, and took the lead when Julia Bryant put back a missed free throw.
It quickly went away, when West Liberty went on a 7-0 run.
Jesuit was able to cut it down to three, 52-49, but Kamarec and Bri Mohney hit back-to-back 3s that pushed it back to 58-49.
The Cardinals battled to get back, but would get no closer than 3.
"We pushed the ball hard on those two possessions," Ullam said of the pivotal 3s. "Bri has been a big difference in this tea,. We were 7-8 at one point and she's really had a god month-and-a-half for us. It really shows for us when she is in the game."
The loss was disappointing for Wheeling Jesuit.
"You can't get off to a slow start to a good team like West Liberty," coach Debbie Buff said. "We fought very, very hard to get back in it and I'm proud of this team for that. We missed a lot of layups, though, shots that we normally make."
Liz Flowers led the way for West Liberty and Simpson added 14 points and 16 rebounds. She set the single-season record for rebounds early in the first half , breaking the old record of 306 set by Lyndsay Frank in 1997. Simpson now has 318.
Mohney also had 14 for the Hilltoppers (19-9, 16-6).
Jaila Bryant had 23 to lead the Cardinals (14-12, 11-11). Taneka Lewis added 14 and Breanna Butler added 10.
It was the first winning season for the Cardinals since 2006-07.
Both teams now head to Mountain East Conference.
Jesuit is scheduled to host Concord in the MEC Tournament Tuesday at 5:30 p.m.
West Liberty, the No. 2 seed, will play the winner of U.va. Wise/Notre Dame College Thursday at Noon at the Charleston Civic Center.