“We were made for this.”
Liberty girls basketball coach Barry Green addressed his team during a first-quarter timeout in the Lions’ Carroll County Athletic League matchup Friday at Westminster.
The Lions had yet to find their composure against the Owls, but that shifted once they were able to find a good defensive rhythm.
The Lions won 54-50, and the victory was exceptionally special for senior forward Rachel Thiem. The Lions had not beaten Westminster since January of 2017, her freshman year. Thiem scored five points in the 43-42 victory that night.
Liberty and Westminster have now split the regular-season series this season, and they’re tied atop the CCAL standings with two county games remaining.
Thiem recently surpassed the 1,000-point mark for her career, and she notched a double-double with 16 points and 11 rebounds in Friday’s win.
“It was definitely about learning to play together and learning to play our defense better,” Thiem said. “I have to say having [Alex Bull] back gave us a lot of energy that we were missing.”
Bull, a senior who missed the first half of the season because of injury, notched 17 points and four boards for the Lions (12-5, 8-2 CCAL). She also hit four 3-pointers.
“It means the world to me,” Bull said. “Honestly, it’s not just being back to me it’s being able to play with my teammates again. Sitting on the sideline watching them was fun and I was there for them, but having their support when I’m back means everything.”
Bull’s first 3 of the night got the Lions on the board with 4:20 left in the first quarter after the Owls led 4-0. The Lions quickly made up ground and a steal-turned-layup from Jordan Nastos tied the teams 7-7 about a minute later. The Lions led 10-9 at the end of the first quarter.
The teams traded shots in the second quarter and battled between one- and two-point deficits until four straight points from senior forward Lillian Harris gave the Owls a 24-18 lead with less than three minutes to go. Lions sophomore Jess Littlejohn sank a pair of free throws and a 3 to bring the Lions within one and a buzzer-beating layup from Val Thompson tied the score 25-25 at the break.
The Lions outscored the Owls 15-11 in the third quarter and both teams scored 14 in the final frame, providing those in attendance with a very balanced effort on both ends of the floor.
Littlejohn trimmed an 8-0 Owls scoring run to cut the Lions’ deficit to 32-30 with less than five minutes to go. After a layup from Westminster junior guard Jillian Pumputis, the Lions scored eight straight points to pick up a 38-34 lead.
They never lost the lead again.
Pumputis scored 10 of the Owls’ 14 points in the last eight minutes of play, but the Lions used their 3-point shooting advantage to keep momentum over the Owls. Bull and Littlejohn sank 3s that gave the Lions a 46-41 lead and another from Bull a few minutes later kept them on top by seven. A free throw from Thiem and a buzzer-beater layup from Pumputis closed out the game.
“[Westminster] is one of the best teams in Carroll County,” Green said. “There isn’t a doubt about it. They play the way I wish everybody played against us because it makes us better. There was little doubt in my mind that if we executed to the full of our ability that we would be successful.
“Success doesn’t necessarily mean win, but in the county it matters that you win. It means that we played the full extent of our ability.”
Liberty is on a six-game winning streak and the Lions have not lost since Jan. 14. Meanwhile, Westminster (12-7, 8-2) saw a three-game win streak snapped.
“I would rather have a competitive game of this because you’re getting the experience of what competition means, how you overcome things, who wins what, who loses what,” Owls coach Dave Urban said. “Last time we won it, this time they won it and that’s more interesting than blowout wins or losses.
“You take more away from this because there’s just a few mistakes that are correctable that change the outcome of the game.”
Liberty (54): Samantha Hardy 1, Rachel Thiem 16, Jordan Nastos 7, Alex Bull 17, Emeline Harolsen 1, Jess Littlejohn 10, Val Thompson 2.
Westminster (50): Lillian Harris 14, Abby Kindle 2, Emily Davis 2, Maddie Olexy 5, Meghan Ruth 3, Mallory Phillips 9, Jillian Pumputis 14, Carlie Rosewag 1.
Halftime: Tied, 25-25.
JV result: Liberty, 46-39.