Basketball Lady ‘Cats win MEC Tournament opener against West Liberty, 77-64

By Duane Cochran for
WHEELING – Ninth-seeded West Virginia Wesleyan pretty much controlled its game with eighth-seeded West Liberty from the outset leading for over 36 minutes of the contest en route to a 77-64 victory in the opening round of the annual Mountain East Conference Basketball Tournament here Wednesday afternoon at WesBanco Arena.

The win, the Lady Bobcats’ second in a row, improved them to 10-16 and puts Wesleyan in the league tournament quarterfinals for the first time since the 2021 season. Wesleyan will face top-seeded and regular-season champion Fairmont State in Thursday’s quarterfinals at 6 p.m.

West Liberty, meanwhile, finished its season at 9-20.

The contest was close for three quarters. With the score tied at 41 with 4:41 to play in the third, Wesleyan closed out the period on a 9-3 run to open a 50-44 advantage and never looked back.

Less than three minutes into the final quarter the Lady Bobcats’ lead had ballooned to 10 and it was never really close again.

“I thought we played really well today,” Wesleyan coach Brett Vincent said. “We were fortunate because West Liberty didn’t shoot the ball as well as they normally do and that obviously helped us.

“We just played really well together and Daveona (Hatchell) was huge for us on the glass today. Those rebounds led to some extra possessions and free throws. Emma (Witt) was also very good. Emma’s been good night in and night out for us for two years now.”

Witt led Wesleyan with 21 points, while Hatchell chipped in 19 points off of the bench and grabbed a game-high 21 rebounds. Her 21 rebounds were the third most in an MEC Tournament game.

The Lady Bobcats dominated the game on the glass outrebounding West Liberty, 52-29. Twenty of Wesleyan’s rebounds came on the offensive boards and resulted in the Lady Bobcats outscoring the Hilltoppers 23-10 in second-chance points.

“When we lost Emma there for a while to foul trouble I was just trying to step up for my team,” Hatchell said. “Coach said rebounding would be a big key to the game and I was just trying to do that for us.”

Witt says Hatchell’s efforts were huge in the victory for Wesleyan.

“When the run came where we took over the game for good it really came from D (Hatchell),” Witt said. “Nobody gives her enough attention. Today she had a great game. She might not necessarily have as many points in other games but she always does the dirty work for us. She really doesn’t get the attention she deserves.”

Hatchell scored 10 of her points and grabbed 15 of her rebounds in the final two quarters for the Bobcats.

The loss was the third in a row for West Liberty which failed to make the conference tournament quarterfinals for the first time since 2020.

“I’ll start by saying what needs said and that’s you have to give credit to Wesleyan,” West Liberty coach Kyle Cooper said. “I thought when we made our run there and tied it that the game really changed. It was a real grind until that point.

“We kept making runs at them and tying it and they’d hit timely baskets or get offensive rebounds which would lead to second-chance points for them. That hurt us. That was the story of the game.”

West Liberty was just 6-of-29 for the game from 3-point range. The Hilltoppers entered the contest as the top team in the MEC percentage-wise (35.6 percent) from long distance.

“During the stretch in the third quarter when we tied the game we were really clicking, shots were falling and everyone was contributing,” said the Hilltoppers’ Corinne Thomas, who finished with 11 points. “But then we lost sight of the defensive side of the ball and getting stops. They got too many second-chance points and as the stats show we got outrebounded. It hurt us.”

Jenna Riccardo led West Liberty with 18 points and six rebounds. The Hilltoppers also got 11 points from both Karly McCutcheon and Bailee Smith.


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