West Liberty, W. Va. – It was the final edition of "The Battle for Wheeling" for the winter season on Saturday as the Wheeling University Women's Basketball team (14-14, 12-10) headed up the hill to face West Liberty. It was a strong start for the Cardinals, but in the end they fell to the Hilltoppers 87-83. The Cardinals had two 18+ point scorers in the game as they now prepare for the 2023 Mountain East Conference (MEC) Tournament.
Early on, the Cardinals fell behind as West Liberty's Karly McCutcheon hit a three-pointer to give the Hilltoppers a 3-0 lead. However, Wheeling battled back to tie things at 5-5 by the 7:21 mark of the first quarter. The two teams remained tied for the next four points before an 8-2 Hilltopper run extended their lead to 16-9 with 4:18 to go in the first. Emily Holzopfel would get the Cardinals back on the board with a jumper as they slowly worked their way back into the game. Wheeling trailed 18-13 with 2:36 to go in the quarter before Shamia Strayhorn got her team back on track. The sophomore hit four consecutive free throws and made it an 18-17 game. West Liberty would put in one more jumper before the quarter came to an end and West Liberty led 20-17 after one.
Lauren Calhoun would get the second quarter started for the Cardinals with a layup as the defense held down. The Cardinals would score 10 straight points to start the quarter, with Calhoun accounting for four of those 10 points. Fatima Mohammad would end the run with a three-pointer and the Cardinals had their first lead of the day at 28-20. After a West Liberty free throw and a jumper, Mohammad would get her team back on the board with a jumper to make it 30-23. The Cardinals defense allowed just nine points during the quarter, and didn't allow West Liberty on the board until the five minutes mark of the quarter. The Cardinals bench came through big once again as Bryana Henderson hit a three-pointer and Kimora Ward hit a layup to keep the Cardinals going and by halftime Wheeling held a 37-29 advantage.
However, coming out of the locker room, the Hilltoppers offense was relentless, scoring a game-high 35 points. The Cardinals responded with 27 points of their own as both offenses were virtually unstoppable. West Liberty cut the Cardinal's lead to 41-31 over the first minute before getting to single digits with a Sonia Sarda layup. Strayhorn broke the run with a jumper and kicked off a 7-2 Cardinals run that made it a 48-35 Wheeling advantage. Jacqui Hinesmon got the team to the 50-point mark with a layup and the Cardinals maintained their 10-point lead with 3:20 to go in the quarter. The Cardinals were able to spread the ball around throughout the quarter with Strayhorn, Holzopfel, and Calhoun all getting in on the action. However, by quarter's end the game was back even at 64-64.
Holzopfel and Pooler each hit layups to start the final 10 minutes but West Liberty came back with four of their own to bring the game back even at 68-68. The Hilltoppers would then take their biggest lead since the first quarter as they went on a 6-0 run to expand their lead to 74-68. Henderson broke the run with a layup and Wheeling made it a one-point game thanks to a three-pointer from Carla Torrubia Cano that made it 74-73. After a layup from West Liberty's Arianna Manzay made it 76-73. Cano was back at it with a layup and Henderson gave the lead back to Wheeling at 77-76. A West Liberty three-pointer and a Wheeling layup tied things at 79-79 with 3:10 to play, setting up a classic finish. Wheeling would strike first with a Calhoun free throw, but West Liberty came back to take an 82-80 lead. The Cardinals would get three more free throws, but it wasn't enough as they fell to the Hilltoppers 87-83.
Leading the way for the Cardinals was Lauren Calhoun who got into the 20-point club for the first time since her 36-point effort against Glenville State. She finished with 20 points and 15 rebounds for her 21st double double of the 2022-23 season. Shamia Strayhorn finished right behind her with 18 points as she continues her strong stretch here in February. Emily Holzopfel rounded out the top three scorers, with a season-high nine points on the night. In total nine different Cardinals got on the board as they shot a combined 45.1% from the floor.
The Wheeling Women's Basketball team has clinched the #6 seed in the MEC Tournament and will face #3 Charleston in the MEC Quarterfinals on March 2nd at 2:30 pm.