Tournament MVP Kaitlin Synder (1) drives past Seton Hill's Mallory Sanner and Tiara Stossel during Saturday's game.
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- For the second time in as many days, Fairmont State was in need of a major second-half boost.And with the last ever West Virginia Conference title hanging in the balance, the Falcons answered the bell yet again.Seton Hill held a 12-point lead with just over 18 minutes to go, but the Falcons stiffened on defense and finally started converting on open looks, resulting in a key 26-6 run that propelled them to a 65-54 win in the West Virginia Conference championship game at the Charleston Civic Center on Saturday.It was the Falcons' third women's championship since 2008 and the second for former Sissonville standout Kaitlin Snyder (2010), who became Fairmont's all-time leading scorer after cashing in on a free throw late in the second half. She now stands at 2,047 points for her career, passing Kristen Gattuso's old mark of 2,041.
Adding to her decorated day, she picked up tournament MVP honors and the Heart and Hustle award."It's amazing," Snyder said. "Who wouldn't want to end their senior year like this. It's much more memorable than my freshman year. The team that we have is outstanding. I don't think you can say any team in the conference has better team chemistry than us and I mean that with everything in me, so to go out with a team like this is phenomenal."In a twist, Snyder set her new mark while playing against Gattuso's cousin, Katie Gattuso, who scored 13 points for Seton Hill.
Unlike Friday's game in which Snyder scored 14 points down the stretch to get the Falcons past West Liberty, Fairmont's big run on Saturday was driven mostly by Hailey Garrett and Hallie Gunnoe, who scored 16 and 11 points, respectively. Gunnoe added 10 rebounds. Snyder helped close the deal with some late foul shots and solid ball handling.Fairmont State coach Steve McDonald said it took overcoming a tough stretch of the season to get to this point."I'm awfully proud of our kids," McDonald said. "We were 11-3 and had just beaten West Liberty at West Liberty and then lost to Shepherd in overtime at Shepherd, then we lost to Glenville by one at Glenville, and then we turned around two days later and played Urbana at home and lost by three. We were 11-6 and it could've been a negative turning point in our season. Instead, these guys refused to give in and the last three weeks played at an extremely high level. I attribute 95 percent of the credit to our players."Seton Hill looked poised to complete its Cinderella run from the No. 5 seed to a tournament championship as it stifled Fairmont in the first half, forcing 10 turnovers and holding the Falcons to 37.5 percent shooting.
The Griffins (19-13) came out swinging early after the break and ran their lead to 32-20, prompting a timeout from McDonald. From that point on, the Falcons shifted into another gear.Fairmont committed just four turnovers and shot a scorching 58.3 percent after halftime, while holding Seton Hill to 37 percent."At times we didn't have the ability to score or get stops," Seton Hill coach Ferne Labati said. "We kind of broke down."It happened to us the last game, the last time we played them at the very beginning. When it happens at the beginning, and we were down 12 at the half at Seton Hill, we were able to regroup and recover. When they made their run and pulled timeouts, we couldn't regroup, that's what really hurt us. If that had occurred in the first half, we probably could've recovered better."
On Saturday, a 12-point lead turned into as much as a nine-point deficit and though the Griffins battled, they couldn't get it back under six during the closing moments.Together, the Falcons (23-9) will always hold the distinction of finishing with the final league trophy, a fact not lost on McDonald."We came here in '08, we had never won a game down here since I took the women's job," McDonald said. "We had been pounded and wiped out. Then we won in '08 and that was certainly very exciting. Kaitlin's freshman year was special in 2010, but honestly I feel like this one is the best one of all."Perhaps it's because I'm a West Virginia kid; I'm from Romney and I have a great love for state and the West Virginia Conference. So maybe there's a little something in my heart for winning last West Virginia Conference tournament. I think that might be something that means quite a bit to me, personally. It's a special league and quite frankly, I hate to see it go."Paige Alviani led Seton Hill with 18 points and Gattuso added team highs with eight rebounds and five assists.Fairmont State and Glenville State, which entered the WVC tournament ranked 12th in the nation but fell to Charleston in the quarterfinals, will each have a week to wait before learning their postseason destinations as NCAA Division II tournament selection will be held next Sunday.
Reach Ryan Pritt at 304-348-7948, firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow him at twitter.com/RPritt.