The Civic Center was wild this past weekend, March 6-9, as athletes and fans from Division-II colleges throughout the Mountain East Conference (MEC) filled the arena for the inaugural MEC Tournament.
Glenville State College was well represented as both the #1 Lady Pioneers and #3 Pioneers earned first round byes and automatic invitations to Charleston. However, the athletes weren't the only ones representing Glenville as their families and local sports fans definitely made sure the other MEC teams knew GSC was in attendance.
For GSC, tournament action opened up Thursday evening, March 6, as the Lady Pioneers met #8 Wheeling Jesuit in the Quarterfinals.
The Lady Pioneers had taken an unexpected loss to the Lady Cardinals in late February, so this game was all about showing the fans that loss was a fluke.
Glenville took control of the game early as Tasia Bistow force a turnover and got the ball to an open Ginny Mills for the jumper. From there, they went on an 8-0 run before the Lady Cardinals finally scored. While Wheeling answered with six of their own to get within two, 8-6, the Lady Pioneers continued to push forward.
At one point in the first half, GSC's women led by 11 following a Bistow three, and at halftime, they maintained a seven point lead, 31-24.
While Wheeling Jesuit managed to keep it close in the first, the Lady Pioneers exploded in the second Mills's five three pointers lead them in route to outscoring their opponent 44-29. The final score was a well-earned 22 point victory for GSC, 75-53.
Mills led all scorers in the contest with 19 points; Bistow added 15. Also impressive in the victory was senior Aesha Peters who had five blocks and six rebounds.
"Glenville is a very good basketball team," admitted Wheeling Jesuit Head Coach Debbie Buff. "They are #9 in the nation for a reason."
While the young Lady Cardinals had struggled with turnovers in the game, they also knew that Mill's three pointers in the second half had buried them.
"Mills is a great player; she has always been a great player," Buff explained. "Her injury set her back a little bit in the beginning, but she is a competitor."
Next up for Glenville State was a quarterfinal match-up for the men against Shepherd University on Friday, March 7.
During the regular season, these two teams had split with each winning at their home sites. This game was about bragging rights.
Senior Lamar Mallory put the Pioneers on the scoreboard first with a layup off the jump. However, the first half would remain tense as the two teams went back-and-forth with five ties and multiple lead changes.
The first half was even more intense for the Pioneers because First Team All-Conference forward Mallory headed to the bench just five minutes into the game due to foul trouble. Gray, the team's top three-point shooter, followed him there less than five minutes later.
Despite losing two starters early in the first half, the Pioneers carried a single, one-point lead into intermission, but the game was far from over.
In the second half, the two teams continued to go back and forth, and at the 4:18 mark, things weren't looking good for the Pioneers as the Rams led by six.
However a layup by Mallory, a three by Kevin Gray, and four free-throws from Reggie Williams later, the game was tied up, 70-all, with 44 seconds left in the game.
Shepherd took the lead again following a pair of foul shots at 22 seconds, 70-72, and Pioneer Head Coach Stephen Dye was forced to call a time-out.
With 22 seconds left on the clock, the Pioneers knew they needed a score to stay in the game. As the team headed back to the floor, no one was certain where the ball would go as the Pioneers have multiple solid shooters.
However, after moving the ball around a bit, the ball landed in the hands of senior sharpshooter Gray. Gray would later comment that he could not believe he was wide open behind the arch; however, pictures show he took the shot with First Team All-Conference senior Brantley Osborne, of Shepherd, right in his face.
The ball went up and swished through the net. While a foul shot from Gray would be the final point of the game, that three-pointer by Gray with nine seconds left on the clock secured the victory for the Pioneers, 74-70.
"We knew coming in it would be a 40 minute battle," said Dye.
Junior Donte Morales led his team, after losing those seniors early, with 18 points. Mallory managed to add 15 points and seven rebounds while Gray put up 12 points for the Pioneers.
"We've had people doubt us from day one," admitted Dye, who felt this victory had proven the Pioneers preseason #9 ranking had been disrespectful to the team. This doubt had only served as motivation throughout the season.
With the Pioneer victory, the men were joining the Lady Pioneers in the Semi-Finals on Saturday, March 8.
The Lady Pioneers suited up that afternoon to take on the #4 West Virginia State Lady Yellow Jackets.
The Pioneers beat them twice during season, but the one thing they had learned during the regular season was to never be too confident. The Lady Jackets included Player of the Year Lexy Carson, and with talent like hers, anything was possible.
While the Lady Pioneers had slowed their game down on Wednesday against Wheeling Jesuit, who often held the ball, they were going to make State play GSC ball.
From the jump, the Ladies were fast and physical. As soon as a Lady Jacket had the ball in hand, two, and sometimes three Lady Pioneers were swarming her for the steal.
By the half, the game was basically in the bag for the Lady Pioneers who led, 52-32.
The Pioneers would finish the game with a 28-point victory, 103-75, but they experienced an even greater loss midway through the second half.
Senior Jessica Parsons, who is the national assist leader, had left the court in slight pain, but moments later, she was back out with her team. However, at 10:55, she dropped to the court again as a State player stole the ball.
Parsons was helped off the court, but to all those watching, the sad memory of Catherine Butcher tearing ACL at the Civic Center two years ago remained vividly in the bad of their minds. Parsons did not play again in the tournament, but no diagnosis has been confirmed at this time.
Senior Kenyell Goodson was hot for the Lady Pioneers in this contest as she hit six-of-13 from three-point land and led the ladies with 22 points and eight rebounds.
Six Lady Pioneers finished the game in double digits: Keyanna Tate (14), Bistow (13), Simmons (11), Tiffani Huffman (11), and Ashleigh Fossett (10). Peters again had five blocks in the match-up.
"I'm excited and thankful for the way these girls played today," expressed Head Coach Charles "Cookie" Marshall after the game.
While Marshall was thankful for the whole team's performance on the day, State Head Coach David Smith commented on their talent as a whole, as he explained, "They just come at you with eight and nine kids who can all score double digits."
Glenville got the win, but State's Carson never gave up as she led her team with a game-high 26 points.
For the Lady Pioneers, the bigger question now was how they would handle the University of Charleston's Lady Eagles. The Lady Eagles had slowed the ladies way down in late January, and the Lady Pioneers had narrowly held on for a, 53-50, victory. The #3 Lady Eagles beat #2 Wheeling Jesuit to sneak into the final, and now the Lady Pioneers would meet them again for the championship.
"A few teams have held the ball on us," Marshall calmly admitted in response to such concerns. "I am actually glad for it.
We will be well prepared for it, just like we were for Wheeling."
As the Lady Pioneer headed to dinner to celebrate, the Pioneer men were suiting up for their 6:00 p.m match-up with University of Charleston.
The Golden Eagles were 2-0 on the season against the Pioneers, but the Pioneers have proven to be one of the most talented teams in the conference. If the shots were hitting that night, the game could go either way.
With an opening three from Morales, the Pioneers took an early lead, and they would lead throughout most of the opening ten minutes. At halftime, the Golden Eagles had gained a slight lead, and the Pioneers trailed by four, 30-34.
Despite the close first half, the second half turned into a blow out for the Eagles.
To those watching the game, many began to wonder whether the Pioneers could have even bought a shot that night. A Morales three would hit the inside of the rim and bounce out; a Reggie Williams lay-up rolled around the rim and out.
As Dye would later say of the 65-76 loss, "It just wasn't meant to be."
The Pioneers, who were led by Williams (16 pts; 8 rebounds), Lamont Cole (14), and Mallory (10 pts; 9 rebounds), hit only three-of-19 from beyond the arc or 16%.
"You have your good nights, and you have your bad nights," admitted Dye. "Tonight just wasn't our night."
For UC Head Coach Dwaine Osbourne, it was clearly a bittersweet victory, as he explained, "Steve Dye was my Assistant at Glenville. I have a lot of respect for him."
While UC prepared for their Championship Final the next day with the WVIAC reigning four-time champion West Liberty Hilltoppers, the Pioneers had to hope their season was not over.
"We have been praying, and when it [the 64 D-II teams invited into the National Tournament] is announced, we will be together as a team," said Dye. "I think we're in, but nothing is finalized."
The men had made it to the MEC Semifinals, but that was where their regular season competition would end. The UC Golden Eagles went on to defeat the Hilltoppers for the first-ever Men's MEC Championship, 63-60.
For the Lady Pioneers, the game started out slow, but they quickly took the lead. At halftime, the ladies led 28-20.
While UC had slowed the game down in the first, midway through the second, they realized to catch-up they'd have to speed up allowing the Pioneers to play their style for the final 10 minutes.
As the final seconds ticked off the clock, the eight Pioneer seniors held hands on the bench as the team was victorious, 74-50.
"People talk about their style so often they forget how talented they are," admitted the UC Head Coach. "You don't go 28-3 and not be a good team."
The Lady Pioneers had four players in double-digits: Simmons (16), Mills (12), Goodson (11), and Bristow (10). Those same four players were named to the All-Tournament Team. Simmons was named MVP.
As they celebrated on the court, things only got better. Trainer Brent Walters walked out announcing Gannon, the previously ranked top team in the region, had just been beaten.
On that same night, March 9, the Lady Pioneers learned they would host the 2014 Regional Tournament, and the men received the #7 ranking in the region and will be appearing in their FIRST NCAA D-II National Tournament.
Congratulations to both teams, and good luck in this weekend's contests.