Liberty’s girls basketball team missed four attempts from the 3-point line, until the fourth quarter when coach Barry Green said it was only a matter of time until things started to click for his players.
The Lions were forced to play catch-up to Century through the majority of a Class 2A West Section 1 quarterfinal Saturday night, the third meeting between the county foes this season. Liberty opened up a 13-0 scoring run, sparked by a 3 from Rachel Thiem with four minutes left to play.
Alex Bull, a senior, hit two straight 3s and Jess Littlejohn contributed another to give the Lions a 42-38 lead with 1:53 left on the clock.
It was enough to keep the host squad ahead of the Knights and the Lions won 47-43 to advance to the sectional semifinal at Oakdale on Tuesday.
“We needed to get the 3s to get the lead and that’s the fastest, most efficient way,” Thiem said. “On top of that, all we had to do was contain the ball defensively, that was our main goal.”
Added Bull: “We needed to get momentum, especially at the end. If we kept nailing those 3s then we could easily drive and they would just foul us and we could keep growing the lead with that.”
The Knights scored eight straight points in the first quarter to build an 8-3 lead until a pair of free throws from Kassie O’Hern trimmed the deficit. Knights senior Jess Diorio hit a 3 to extend the team’s lead 11-5 with less than four minutes to go and they held on to a 14-9 advantage after one.
The Knights capitalized on rebounds early, both offensively and defensively. Eva Brandt, the team’s steals leader, scored four points in the second to keep the team’s momentum up as they led 21-17 at the break.
Century sophomore Demma Hall carried the ball deep into the Lions’ defensive zone, stepped back and tossed the ball to Sarah Deese, who hit a 3 that gave the Knights a 10-point lead about halfway through the third.
Reese did it again a few minutes later, but Bull responded with a 3 of her own with 11 seconds left to bring the Lions within seven, 33-26.
The Knights came within two of Liberty after the Lions’ rally of 3-pointers, but the Lions managed to stay on top to get the win.
Green said the leadership of Bull and Thiem was evident throughout the entire Lions lineup, on and off the court.
Thiem led with four rebounds and three steals.
“It’s not always what they do when they’re on the floor, but it’s always what they do when they’re off the game floor,” Green said. “What they did off the game floor was support the kids that were on and they saw exactly what they were doing incorrectly and what they needed to do better and they made the adjustments.”
Diorio paced Century with 11 points and Deese and Brandt each scored nine for the Knights (5-18).
“We are very proud of how far our girls have come this season and all the hard work that they put in,” Knights coach Danielle Fieni said via text. “We will continue to work to get to where we want to be and are looking forward to a bright future for an amazing group of girls.”
Century (43): Jess Diorio 11, Sarah Deese 9, Christina Haspert 2, Madison Plitt 1, Sam Seledee 6, Kailyn Jones, Eva Brandt 11, Little 2.
Liberty (47): Kayla Allen 4, Rachel Thiem 10, Christine Goetz 1, Jordan Nastos 8, Alex Bull 11, Kassie O'Hern 2, Jess Littlejohn 3, Val Thompson 2, Maddi Haggerty 6.