FINKSBURG — When asked if Liberty’s girls basketball team focused on fine-tuning its defense in the offseason, coach Barry Green got serious.
“One. Hundred. Percent,” the Lions' coach said.
It showed Friday afternoon in Liberty's season opener — the Lions had many hands in forcing 37 turnovers en route to beating Gerstell 46-30 at Paterakis Athletic Center.
Liberty finished 3-21 a year ago. But with a large crop of players returning this season, and no seniors on the roster, Green said the Lions are motivated to show they’ve improved and will compete much more in 2018-19.
“I’m going to go ahead and put it out there now,” Green said about his girls’ increased defensive efforts. “That is what has to be different between us this year going forward, then where we’ve been the last two years.”
The Lions collected 20 steals and pulled away from Gerstell in the second half.
Rachel Thiem, a junior forward, posted a double-double with 21 points and 10 rebounds. Sophomore Alex Bull chipped in with 11 points, and junior guard Jordan Nastos added six. Nastos and Bull also had four steals each, while freshman Val Thompson grabbed five.
Liberty led by 10 points at halftime before Gerstell (1-3) tried to mount a comeback. A basket from Haley Polk with 5 minutes to play in the third quarter trimmed the visitors’ lead to 26-22. But the Falcons committed nine turnovers on their final 10 possessions of the frame.
Meanwhile, the Lions crafted a 10-1 run the rest of the way and led 36-23 after three. Bull sank one of her three 3-pointers during the run.
Liberty maintained a comfortable lead in the fourth quarter and kept the pressure on. Gerstell gave up 13 more turnovers in the final period, and the Lions leaned on defense in celebrating a win in their first game of the new season.
“It’s all we work on,” said Thiem, who earned Times all-county first-team honors a year ago. “That’s all we do.”
Liberty utilized full-court pressure when it could Friday, something Thiem said has been a strength in practice. Getting a body between the opposing player and the ball is paramount to the Lions’ defensive scheme working, Theim said.
“We have a hawk who watches for the over-the-top pass all the time,” said Thiem, who pointed to Nastos and freshman guard Kassie O’Hern as the main hawks Friday.
Tyra Echevarria led Gerstell with 14 points and Kylie Redman added seven. Falcons coach Shane Stem said his team’s turnover total was a bit uncharacteristic.
“These girls love to compete so much that they get revved up,” Stem said. “Tonight was a county game for us. We don’t get to play that many of them. … Tonight we grew, we really did. There was a breakthrough in our competitiveness tonight that we’ve been looking for.”
Gerstell begins its Interscholastic Athletic Association of Maryland B Conference play Monday, while Liberty gets ready for two home games next week — Walkersville on Wednesday and Winters Mill next Friday in the Lions’ Carroll County Athletic League opener.
They went 1-11 in CCAL play last season, and Thiem said last year’s disappointment is plenty of reason to strive for more this winter.
“We can’t wait to play in the county,” she said. “We’re so excited to show everyone the team that we have, and the talent that we have.”
Liberty (46): Rachel Thiem 21, Jordan Nastos 6, Alex Bull 11, Jess Littlejohn 2, Val Thompson 4, Emeline Haldorsen 2.