By SHAWN RINE
CHARLESTON - West Liberty women's basketball coach Lynn Ullom prepared his team for a physical confrontation with Charleston on Saturday in a Moutain East Conference Tournament semifinal at the Charleston Civic Center Coliseum. The Hilltoppers weren't expecting to do the majority of it without defensive stopper Kiki Simpson.
Simpson went to the bench with her second foul 1:50 into the game and the flood gates opened early for Charleston in a 76-49 rout that paved the way to today's championship against top-seeded Glenville State, which rolled past West Virginia State.
"Kiki Simpson is the most persecuted player in our league and I have said it (before). The entire year, she gets less breaks and less calls than any kid in our league," Ullom said. "When you're the smallest team in the league like we are, we have to have her on the floor because we're a very average team defensively without her. When I have to take her out with 18 minutes left in the first half it's not going to bode well for us.
"That being said, I give Charleston a lot of credit (because) its effort level was incredible. It's the worst pounding we've taken in a while."
Now the Hilltoppers (20-10) wait to see if their resume, which includes victories against regionally ranked teams Glenville, Charleston (twice), Fairmont and Urbana, is enough when the NCAA selects its Division II national tournament field at 10 tonight on a live webcast.
The third-seeded Golden Eagles (21-7) used a 9-0 run midway through the first half to break open a close game and grab a 33-15 lead.
It eventually became a 20-2 run during the final six minutes and a 44-17 halftime lead as West Liberty missed 11 straight shots at one point.
Charleston hit 62 percent of its shots including 6 of 7 from 3-point range during the first 20 minutes, while the Toppers, who made a season-high 14 from 3-point range in a quarterfinal victory against Virginia-Wise on Thursday, were 0-for-9.
It was obvious quickly the Hilltoppers, who have won 12 of 14, were going to give it a go in the second half as they scored the first five points. They continued, upping the run to 16-5 run during the first nine minutes, but ran out of gas shortly after.
The Hilltoppers committed three turnovers and missed four shots on their next seven possessions.
"They started off and there was three quick foul calls and it slowed the start of that half. All of the sudden they make a couple of free throws and make a (three-point play), and then you feel like 'Oh, this is falling apart,' " Charleston coach Adam Collins said. "You've just got to look up and realize sometimes that you are still up a good bit.
"I thought we played phenomenal in the first half and pretty darn well in the second half. There was an eight-minute slippage, but with the score the way it was, it's hard to go into the second half and it not to creep into your mind that, hey, 'this could be bad if we lose this.' "
Charleston responded with a 10-0 run that included a 3 from Nichole Perry (nine points, eight rebounds, three steals) and five of Chyress Lockhart's team-high 20 points.
"We scrapped and we fought, but anyone who has been around sports knows that when you are down that much it takes so much effort mentally and physically to fight back, that you hit the wall at some point," said Ullom, who dropped to 12-6 in conference semifinal play. "We hit the wall.
"We had the ball and a chance to cut it to 13 but we missed two 3s."
West Liberty, which entered sixth nationally making nine 3-pointers a game, was limited to 2 of 23 - both from Flowers, who had a game high-tying 20 points - and shot 30 percent (16-for-53) overall while turning the ball over 16 times compared to five assists.
"I think it kind of got in our heads when we weren't hitting shots," said Flowers, a sophomore from Williamstown who also five rebounds and three steals. "When you do that you start hesitating when you shoot and you wonder if you should take the shots. It's the mental part of the game.
"We should have forgotten about the missed shots and tried to work through it."
The Golden Eagles avenged a pair of regular-season losses (84-80, 46-45) to the Hilltoppers.
"I do think that we played harder, we played hungry, and I think we did have something we wanted to prove," Collins said. "We played them twice and lost both times in the last seconds of the game.
"The key for them is, if they hit around 10 or more 3s they are probably going to win the game. We were like that last year so we know what it's like to live and die by that.
"We know that when we played people and they took that away from us that it would be hard for us to score. "That's what we really tried to do to them."
Kali Cuttaia added 12 points for Charleston and Kiara Johnson chipped in 10. Kailee Howe and Jasmin Kiley contributed nine and eight points, repsectively, for the Hilltoppers.