By A.J. Proger, Sports Editor
The West Liberty University Hilltoppers made their first ever trip to Springfield and the Elite Eight in school history and came just short of their ultimate goal for the year.
After getting past Anderson in the quarterfinal the Hilltoppers didn’t have an answer for Jet Chang and BYU Hawaii as they were beat at their own game Thursday night with a score of 110-101 to end their run in the Final Four.
Wednesday night against Anderson, West Liberty got off to it’s slowest start of the year by getting behind 11-0 before getting a single basket.
For the next several minutes the Toppers and the Trojans exchanged points and West Liberty found itself down 14 at 28-14 with 10:33 to play in the first half.
“We weren’t playing that well but I liked the pace of the game at that point,” Head Coach Jim Crutchfield said of his team’s start.
“This is how we played all year to get to this point so I certainly wasn’t going to change things up now. We’re going to dance with the horse who brought us here.”
For the Hilltoppers John Wolosinczuk got the lid off the hoop for good by draining a three and the run started from there.
On the next possession Corey Pelle came down the court and drained a long distance bomb to get back to within 28-20.
On the ensuing Trojan possession Pelle stole the ball and Alex Falk finished things up with a lay-up to make it 28-22 and the Toppers were rolling.
A few more trading baskets made it 32-24 Trojans before West Liberty took over for good.
The Toppers went on a 6-0 run to get back to within two at 32-30.
West Liberty took its first lead at 42-39 when Jordan Fortney dialed up from long distance with 3:16 remaining on the first half ticker and they never trailed the rest of the night.
The Hilltoppers lead 52-47 going into the locker room and stretched the lead out to as much as 27 in the second half.
They coasted the rest of the way to a 113-95 victory to improve to 33-0 on the year and their first ever Elite Eight win in school history.
Chris Morrow tied a career high with 25 points on the night with 10 of 11from the floor and a perfect four of four from three point range.
“I don’t think I’ve ever had a shooting game like that,” Morrow said.
“I was just trying to focus on taking good shots and not force anything. Thankfully, they were falling for me tonight.”
On Thursday night West Liberty took to the court to battle the BYUH Hawaii Seasiders for the first time in school history.
On most nights the Hilltoppers come out with all jets flying in rolling up big numbers on the scoreboard.
However on this particular night the Seasiders had one “Jet” in particular who crashed on the Hilltoppers run at a National Title.
BYUH’s Jet Chang scored a career high 43 points in leading the Seasiders to a 110-101 win over the number one ranked team in the country.
West Liberty trailed the entire first half of the high scoring shootout.
However it wasn’t until towards the end of the first half did BYUH Hawaii create some distance between the two teams.
With the Toppers down two at 26-24 with 9:44 remaining,
Chang hit one of his seven back breaking bonus bombs to put the Seasiders up by five and they never looked back the rest of the way in the first half.
The deficit stretched to as many as 17 in the first half before the Toppers started to crawl back into things.
A Barry Shetzer three got West Liberty back to within 52-45 before a Gary Satterwhite jumper put the Seasiders back up by nine at 54-45 with 1:31 to play in the first half.
The score at the break was 58-47.
Pelle was a one man show for the Hilltoppers in the second half as he either scored or assisted on West Liberty’s first seven baskets as they hit four three pointers in the first four minutes to cut the deficit back to two at 67-65.
The Toppers took their first lead of the night at 73-72 when Morrow laid it up and in with 12:43 remaining in the ball game.
Unfortunately for the number one team in the land that would be the only time they led on the evening and the last time they led during their magical 33-1 season.
The Seasiders mounted themselves another comfortable lead at 97-89 before the Toppers rallied to tie it at 97 all with 2:35 remaining on the clock.
However a missed Pelle layup led to a Marques Whippy lay in to give BYUH the lead for good.
A couple more missed opportunities forced West Liberty to start fouling and the Seasiders put the game away at the charity stripe.
Pelle led the way for West Liberty with 32 points and Shetzer had 23 on the evening.
For his efforts in the two games in Springfield, Pelle was named to the Elite Eight all tournament team.
BYUH would go on to lose in the National Championship game 71-68 to Bellarmine KY.
Chang, who had 35 points in the championship game, was named the tournament’s most outstanding player.
The staff at the Trumpet would like to congratulate Head Coach Jim Crutchfield and the Hilltoppers basketball team on having the best season in school history. The Hilltoppers will have a lot of huge shoes to fill but with stars like Alex Falk, Chris Morrow and Tim Hausfeld back in the fold next season, the future looks bright for basketball here on the hilltop.