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Mountaineer faithful make plans for Steel City visit

CHARLESTON, W.Va. - Hotel and tourism officials in Pittsburgh anticipate a flock of revelers flooding into the steel city this weekend.

They expect a few West Virginia basketball fans to come, too.

The Mountaineers are scheduled to play Gonzaga Thursday in Pittsburgh in the second round of the NCAA mens' basketball tournament, but St. Patrick's Day celebrations could complicate plans for fans.

"St. Patrick's Day is always phenomenally high-demand," said Tom Hardy, general manager at the Sheraton Station Square Hotel. "We sell out with or without the NCAA Tournament."

Several hotels pledged 150 rooms each when the city was announced as a tournament host, Hardy said, but many of those rooms are going to team members, school bands, cheerleaders, coaches and others affiliated with the programs. Most of the rest have been reserved for a while, presumably for people aiming to participate in the holiday festivities, Hardy said.  

The nice weather forecast for the weekend, and the possibility of Vice President Joe Biden also attending the annual holiday parade, could attract even more people, Hardy added.

A representative with the Westin Convention center in Pittsburgh said every room was booked before the teams were announced Sunday, and a Cambria Suites representative said she thought WVU fans would make the 75-mile drive back from Pittsburgh to Morgantown after any game.

The close proximity probably played a role in phones ringing off the hook Monday at the WVU ticket office, said Matt Wells, sports marketing director. While the office was offering tickets for $78 - tickets at online brokers were going for as little as $140 and as much as $1,067 throughout the day - Wells said they were only available for a specific group of people.

About 200 tickets were open to donors and season-ticket holders, he said. Those people could call in and reserve tickets, with the department accommodating as many reservations as possible. Wells said every ticket was spoken for by 5 p.m. Monday.

"We've had a great response today," he said.  

He said students arrived early Monday to vie for some of the 50 tickets allotted to them on a first-come, first-served basis.

If the Mountaineers are able to beat Gonzaga and advance to the next round Saturday morning, also in Pittsburgh, everyone who bought tickets through WVU for Thursday's game will automatically receive and be charged for tickets for Saturday's contest, Wells said.

Thursday tickets allow fans to take in the match between Ohio State and Loyola (Maryland) as well, he added.

Craig Davis, vice president of sales and marketing for the tourism organization Visit Pittsburgh, had a few tips for fans coming to Pittsburgh. If someone is having trouble finding a hotel, he suggested looking outside the downtown area.

"Even if you're staying at the airport, it's only a 20-minute drive in," he said.

Davis said visitors should drive into the city early Saturday to avoid the St. Patrick's Day rush but should feel safe parking downtown.

There are more than 200 bars and restaurants in the heart of the city, and anyone can use the free subway system or cabs to get around. He said the South Side would have a "hopping" bar scene for fans who can't get a ticket but want to be in the city for the game.

"It's going to be a lively, fantastic atmosphere," Davis said.

Contact writer Dave Boucher at 304-348-4843 or david.boucher@dailymail.com. Follow him at twitter.com/Dave_Boucher1.

 


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