Wheeling, W. Va. – One of the great college basketball rivalries in the Ohio Valley made it's way to the Alma Grace McDonough Center on Saturday as "The Battle for Wheeling" kicked off this basketball season. The Wheeling University Women's Basketball team (11-7, 9-3) kept Wheeling's unbeaten streak in the rivalry alive at home as they took down West Liberty 74-68. The win moves the Cardinals into a tie for second in the ultra competitive Mountain East Conference (MEC) and has them riding high into the end of January.
This one would be a nail bitter as the Cardinals entered the fourth quarter with just a three-point advantage. West Liberty hit a jumper coming out of the fourth quarter that made it a one-point adsaie and the Cardinals had to fight to hold on. Lauren Calhoun hit a jumper to bring the Cardinal lead to 54-52, but a West Liberty free throw and jumper shifted the momentum back their way as they led 55-54. The lead would change hands two more times over the next four minutes before a short 9-2 Topper run gave them their biggest advantage at 64-59. The Cardinals were looking for a counter punch and got it when Kenzie Dalton hit a layup That sparked a 7-2 Cardinals counter run and with 3:09 to play the score sat dead even at 66-66.
Calhoun gave the Cardinals the lead back with a jumper and after West Liberty tied it again a Jacqui Hinesmon jumper got the Cardinals back in front 70-68. The Cardinals defense would need to stand strong the rest of the way and they did just that, not allowing a Hilltoppers bucket over the final 1:08 of play. The Cardinals would have to get it done from the free throw line to seal the deal and that they did, going 4-4 over their two opportunities. It would be Graci Fairman nailing all four shots as sealing the deal for the Cardinals as they won 74-68. It was the first Cardinal win against the Hilltoppers since the COVID shortened 2020-21 season as they continue to push up the conference standings.
The Cardinal's offensive leader was once again senior Lauren Calhoun, who was one of three double digit scorers on the night. She finished with 16 points to lead the way for the Cardinals while finishing second on the team with five rebounds. Freshman Kenzie Dalton led the defensive side of things, finishing with a team high seven rebounds and four assists, while adding 12 points on the night. Shamia Strayhorn was the other double digit scorers for the Cardinals, adding 13 points on the day in the win. Not only was it an emotional win for the Cardinals but one that helps them down the MEC Playoff stretch as they are now just one game out of the top spot in the conference standings.
Early on, it was a low scoring affair, with the teams combining for just 13 points over the first five plus minutes of play. Dalton and Hinesmon each had two points while Strayhorn added a free throw as the Cardinals trailed 7-6. However, the flood gates would open ove the final four minutes and by the end of the first quarter it was a 17-15 Hilltoppers advantage. Karly McCutcheon extended West Liberty's lead with a layup to start the second quarter, but the Wheeling offense kept the Hilltoppers within striking distance. The score sat at 21-19 West Liberty with 7:09 to play in the half and Kimora Pooler and Fatima Mohammad would each hit shots to tie things at 23-23. Wheeling would take a 25-24 lead in a Shanley Woods jumper but it would be West Liberty that went into halftime leading 36-35.
The Cardinals needed to come out strong in the second half and, after allowing the first six points of the Cardinals would do just that. Hinesmon got the ball back in Wheeling's court with a free throw and Dalton hit a three pointer to make it 42-39. West Liberty would hold their lead through the three minute mark of the quarter before Wheeling would overtake them. Dalton would hit a layup and complete the three-point play to tie things at 46-46. Wheeling would outscored the Hilltoppers 6-3 over the final two and a half minutes to enter the fourth quarter ahead 52-49. That led to the wild finish and the eventual 74-68 win over the Hilltoppers.