By Kyle Lutz, Sports Editor
It was one exciting week for the Hilltoppers as they went 3-0 during the week and won the WVIAC Championship for the third straight year with a 107-73 win against Alderson-Broaddus on Feb. 20.
West Liberty was able to secure their third straight championship with ease; despite losing four starters from last year that were all 1,000 point scorers.
“It’s shocking to win a conference championship this early. It’s surprising; it’s something I didn’t think was going to happen with losing a lot of players from last year’s team, but these guys have really stepped up with a great level of intensity,” coach Jim Crutchfield said.
“We’re excited about the conference championship, but we still have four games left on the schedule and we plan to finish out strong. But right now, we’re savoring a West Virginia Conference Championship.”
Coming into the game, Alderson-Broaddus was in second place in the conference and also held West Liberty to a season low 79 points last time they played.
“I expected this game to go to the wire. AB has a great ball club and they’re trying to stop us from getting the conference championship. They were in second place and trying to help themselves out, so you expect it go to the wire. I feel we just played a really good basketball game,” Crutchfield added.
It was a whole different ball game this time as it only took two minutes for the Hilltoppers to take a double digit lead as the No. 2-ranked team in the nation started the game with a 16-2 lead.
The double digit lead never dropped to a single digit lead for the rest of the game.
The lead got to as big as 37 points and that is when coach Crutchfield pulled the starters with more than five minutes remaining and the crowd roared with applause.
Four Hilltoppers scored in double figures. Chris Morrow led the Hilltoppers in scoring with 27 points. C.J. Hester had 17 points and Cedric Harris had 15.
New 1,000 point club member, Alex Falk rounded out the double digit scorers as he contributed 12 points to his career.
“We played great defense, shot the ball well and the guys just played really well together.
“They’re starting to play together the type of way you expect a team to play at West Liberty, like they know each other,” Crutchfield said.
The next game of the week was against the last WVIAC team that beat the Hilltoppers, West Virginia State.
It was close for the entire game until the final four minutes when the Hilltoppers ended the game on an 11-0 run to defeat the upset minded Yellowjackets 84-73.
The Hilltoppers’ free throws are what secured the game for them.
The team leading the nation in free throw percentage dropped 11-of-13 foul shots in the final four minutes to put what was a four point game to a 15 point margin.
A scary moment hit the Hilltoppers late in the game as Chris Morrow hit the ground hard on a foul.
Morrow was on the court for quite some time before being helped off the court by the training staff and spent the rest of the game on the bench.
Falk added 21 more points to his stats. Shawn Dyer also added 16 points to help the Hilltoppers strive to victory.
The final game of the week involved a 103-88 win against Glenville State.
The win gave Crutchfield his 200th win as West Liberty’s head coach in only 241 career games on the hilltop. This makes him the second fastest coach to reach 200 wins.
“I did not know. I was told a couple of days ago that ‘you are actually one win away from 200’. You are so focused on trying to win the next game and what’s ahead,” Crutchfield said.
“I’ve got assistant coaches Ben and Aaron. I have had good players that have played hard. That makes it 200 wins for the program, not just one man.”
In the game, the Hilltoppers were up by as much as 20, but a season low 21 percent behind the three point arc kept the Pioneers in the game.
However, the Hilltoppers escaped with a solid 15 point victory.
Falk led the Hilltoppers in the game with 28 points which gave him a career total of 1,069 points where he passed 2011 All-American Jordan Fortney for 36th place on West Liberty’s scoring list.
Harris’ 17 points puts him at 1,000 points in his college career.
During his freshman year at Wheeling Jesuit in 2009, he scored 572 points.
The Hilltoppers play an important game tonight as they take on rival Wheeling Jesuit.
The Hilltoppers are looking to become the first WVIAC team ever to go undefeated in conference play in back-to-back seasons.
They currently have a WVIAC record of 60 straight conference game wins dating back to the 2007-08 season.
West Liberty has a good chance to be the number one ranked team in the nation for this week for the first time this year.
Top ranked Bellarmine was upset 75-72 by No. 11- ranked Southern Indiana on February 16.
The NABC Division II Coach’s Polls were released the morning of the 21, after The Trumpet went to press.