FAIRMONT -- On Saturday, Erica Rome finished playing a full 40 minutes against archrival Salem International. She was one of the last ones to leave the Fairmont State lockerroom. But not because she was tired.
After all, Rome is used to it. The 81-55 victory over the Tigers at Joe Retton Arena marked the ninth game this season she never left the floor. Both she and starting forward Erin Fantroy, Rome's backup at point guard, average 34.3 minutes a game.
"You just have to suck it up," Rome said. "There's some points where I get tired, but I know I need to be on the floor. You just take two deep breaths to catch your breath and go back out there."
Only once this season has she played less than 25 minutes. In Fairmont State's 102-48 victory over Columbia Union in the fourth game of the season, Rome saw just 17 minutes of action and still scored 11 points. Coach Steve McDonald doesn't see a reason to take her out of many games.
"On some occasions, we just leave Erica out there," McDonald said. "She's in such great physical condition. Her game does not deteriorate by staying out there."
Rome has skewed the learning curve to the college game. After being thrust into the starting point guard position last season as a freshman, she has rapidly adjusted this season, something McDonald attributes to her coach at Bridgeport, Dave Marshall.
"I'm more confident after going through my whole freshman year," Rome said. "It was all about learning last year, but I'm still learning this year. I'll admit it's been hard, but I'm mentally tough. That's what (Marshall) preached, so it's made it easier on me."
Fairmont State went 13-14 last year, losing an 83-82 heartbreaker to Wheeling Jesuit in the West Virginia Conference tournament. Rome scored 30 points in that game, on 11-of-14 shooting.
But with Rome at the point, this year's team picked up its first 20-win season since 1991 on Saturday and as the No. 5 seed in the year's WVC tournament hosts No. 10 West Virginia State at 7:30 p.m. tonight.
Saturday marked her first double-double of the year with 15 points and 11 assists. Entering play Saturday, she was fifth in the WVC with 121 total assists (4.65 average) and fifth in assist-turnover ratio (1.48).
She helped beat SIU with a simple flick of the wrist on a give-and-go and one-handed passes over the top of the defense.
"Those assists I can't take credit for," Rome said. "My job as a point guard is to get the ball to the girls, and their job is to finish. (Saturday) everyone was finishing."
She's not quite the same scoring threat she was at Bridgeport. Her 10.0 average places her fifth on her own team. But even with her 33 percent shooting (80 of 239) being admittedly frustrating, Rome has gone from taking games over in the Big 10 to handling the WVC the way McDonald knew she would all along.
"Our point guard has to play well and understand what we're trying to do," McDonald said. "She's matured a great deal and developed along the lines she's supposed to."
Sports writer Rob Peirce can be reached at 626-1444 or by e-mail at email@example.com.