WEST LIBERTY - The West Liberty men's basketball team entered the opening round of the NCAA Division II Atlantic Regional on Saturday at the ASRC as not only the No. 1 seed, but also the No. 1-ranked school in the nation. So the question is, who is No. 2?
Perhaps you don't have to look any farther than the Hilltop campus for that answer. It's certainly not Slippery Rock, the eighth-seeded team in the region, which left the state battered and bruised - physically and emotionally - after a 117-73 whack job before whatever you call a standing-room-only crowd in which there's actually nowhere to stand.
''I have to say, one of the reasons I think we play well is because these guys are the No. 1 team in the nation and they took it on the chin a couple times this week (in practice) from our second team,'' West Liberty coach Jim Crutchfield said. ''That makes you better.''
The coach isn't lying - these guys can play. In a combined 83 minutes of action, Tim Hausfeld (20 points), Chris Morrow (12), Mike Lopez (nine), Nick Brown (seven), Mark Shadowens (five), Keene Cockburn (three), Jordan Fee (one) and Jeff Yunetz, netted 57 points, or 14 more than Slippery Rock's starting five.
They Aren't Free?
It's hard to tell how gruesome the final score would have been if the Hilltoppers had been decent at the free-throw line. West Liberty entered the game ranked 24th out of 275 D-II teams at the stripe, hitting 75.7 percent.
''I'm calling that an off night,'' Crutchfield said after his club hit 29 of 47 (61.7 percent). ''It's one of those things that I really haven't figured out how exactly to practice free-throw shooting.
''You stand and shoot them in practice and then you get in the game and miss them. We're a good free-throw shooting team, so I'm just going to say it was an off night.''
Even Hausfeld, who normally hits 90-percent plus from the line, was not immune. The sophomore was 87 of 96 before going 6 of 8.
''He'll go a month without missing two free throws,'' Crutchfield said.
Tough End to Tough Season
If the worst thing that happens to you in a season is it ending with a 44-point postseason loss that just so happens to conclude the careers of a group of guys who entered when five-victory seasons were the norm, then promptly won a total of 57, you're pretty lucky. Slippery Rock wasn't.
In fact, The Rock suffered several more-excruciating losses in 2010.
''December was a long month, obviously,'' SRU coach Kevin Reynolds said. ''Our head manager - our assistant coach's brother, Leo King - committed suicide the first week of December. A lot of guys on the team had known Leo for a long time.
''I talked Maron's (leading scorer Maron Brown) parents the next morning because they wanted to check up on Maron. The next day (his) Dad had a heart attack going to work.
''Then we had Devin Taylor's father pass away, and Tommy Kelly's grandmother, who raised him, passed away as well. It was a long year.''
Shawn Rine can be reached via e-mail at Rine@theintelligencer.net