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‘It’s something special’: Liberty boys basketball beats Century for first regional title in program history

Liberty senior guard Connor Stewart said coach Brian Tombs asked Stewart’s freshman class four years ago what mark they wanted to make on the Lions basketball program.

The Lions defeated crosstown rival Century 54-38 in the Class 2A West Region 1 final on Thursday, handing the Lions their first regional title in program history. This moment, Stewart said, defines that mark and gives the Lions something to look back on.

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Liberty lost to Century twice during the regular season, and those games were both decided by three points. The rivals are known for playing close and drawing a very large crowd for games when they clash considering how close the schools are.

Thursday’s clash at Century was no exception.

“The first two games we obviously dropped and as a senior, those hurt, but to win the game that matters the most and to make school history, it feels surreal,” Lions forward Peyton Scheufele said. “We [lost] a lot of people last year, so to do this with these guys and have this new team and bond like we do and to have the chemistry we do, it’s something special.”

Scheufele led the Lions with 14 points and sophomore guard Shane Stewart contributed 11 in Liberty’s third straight win.

“The coaches put in a great game plan and it couldn’t have gone better,” Lions senior forward Nate Kent said. “So, just to dominate them on their home floor is amazing.”

The Lions (14-10) scored seven straight points in the first quarter to pick up a 9-6 lead until Knights senior guard Justin Wunder hit a buzzer-beater 3-pointer from about 65 feet out to tie the score.

The Knights had 15 first-half points, all from 3-pointers.

Juniors Colby Owings and Noah Riley each hit a 3 for the Knights in the second quarter, but the Lions closed out the frame with an 8-0 scoring run to take a 21-15 lead at the break. Lions junior Justin Sheetz notched three steals in the frame and carried one all the way to the basket for a layup.

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The Lions used a 6-0 scoring run to pick up a 27-17 lead, but Wunder responded with a 3 to trim the deficit 27-20. Shane Stewart scored nine of his 11 points in the frame and the Lions led 34-21 with about two minutes left.

A half-court buzzer-beater from Owings sent Century’s crowd and sideline players into a frenzy for a second time as the Knights took a 10-point deficit into the final frame.

“I think when we came in at halftime, we knew they were going to make adjustments because they knew we were beating them inside,” Connor Stewart said. “For us to go out in the second half and adjust and change our game plan halfway through and be successful really shows the tenacious attitude of our team.”

Owings and Wunder accounted for the Knights’ scoring in the final quarter as the host team tried to catch up, but the Lions continued to push the ball inside. Connor Stewart went 4-for-5 from the free-throw line, and he and junior forward Jayden Adams each contributed six points in the frame.

“As a junior, to come up and play with these guys, it’s my first time coming out in a big game in a varsity game at Century and it was a lot of fun,” Adams said. “It was a blast beating them on their home court.”

The Knights (20-4) won 11 straight games over the Lions from Jan. 2013 to March 2017, and earned a spot in the 2A state final that winter. The Lions defeated Century four times in the 2017-18 season, and beat them by 12 in the second round of playoffs that year.

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In the teams’ first meeting of the 2018-19 season, Liberty beat Century 79-78 in overtime after trailing until the very end of the game.

Liberty coach Brian Tombs encourages his team to get back on defense in the second half. Liberty defeats Century, 54-38, to claim the 2A West, Region I championship Thursday night in Eldersburg.
Liberty coach Brian Tombs encourages his team to get back on defense in the second half. Liberty defeats Century, 54-38, to claim the 2A West, Region I championship Thursday night in Eldersburg.(Doug Kapustin/Carroll County Times)

“We pounded the ball to the post and our guys did a real good job of being patient [tonight],” Tombs said. “In the second half, we finished a bit better and that was the game plan. They stuck with it and just battled and at this point in the year, you’re playing good teams. It doesn’t matter who you’re playing, you have to rise to the challenge.”

Wunder led the Knights with 17 points, three rebounds and a steal in his final game. Owings added 13 points and three rebounds and Riley had six points, three rebounds, and two steals.

“This is probably the closest group of guys I’ve ever had,” Wunder said, standing with his father, coach George Wunder. “They’re like brothers to me, I’d do anything for them and they’d do anything for me. It just sucks that I won’t be able to see them every day after practice anymore, it’s just awful.”

Century’s coach was visibly emotional as he expressed praise and gratitude for his team’s seniors and their effort as a whole.

“They’re a good team, they’re a good basketball team,” he said. “I’m going to miss these guys, I’m a little more emotional than usual … my kid … but I’m proud of him, I’m proud of our guys. To go back to back 20-win seasons after losing five seniors from last year and back-to-back county titles is credit to our seniors this year …

“It was a great year and I don’t think any coach ever wants to see their season come to an end but, I couldn’t be more proud of this group.”

Liberty's Peyton Scheufele goes horizontal to lay in two points ahead of Century's Justin Wunder in the first half. Liberty defeats Century, 54-38, to claim the 2A West, Region I championship Thursday night in Eldersburg.
Liberty's Peyton Scheufele goes horizontal to lay in two points ahead of Century's Justin Wunder in the first half. Liberty defeats Century, 54-38, to claim the 2A West, Region I championship Thursday night in Eldersburg.(Doug Kapustin/Carroll County Times)

Liberty (54): Shane Stewart 11, Justin Sheetz 9, Connor Stewart 8, Peyton Scheufele 12, Nate Kent 4, Jayden Adams 10.

Century (38): Noah Riley 6, Colby Owings 13, Spencer Copley 2, Justin Wunder 17.

Halftime: Liberty, 21-15.

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