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Girls Basketball: Liberty does enough to handle pressure, get past South Carroll

ELDERSBURG — Monday’s girls basketball game between rivals South Carroll and Liberty featured a frenetic pace that favored the Lions for most of its four quarters.

The Cavaliers gave it a go in the final frame, however, and threatened to pull out an impressive comeback. But the home team had a little more left down the stretch to come away with a 66-51 victory in Carroll County Athletic League play.

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The Lions (5-3, 3-0 CCAL) were in a similar position against South River during their holiday tournament at Howard High School, but coach Barry Green said his girls came up a little short in that pressure situation. The Cavaliers (1-9, 1-2) went to their own press for most of the fourth quarter Monday, and Green said Liberty had a decision to make.

“I asked them to play with better composure, especially when they were going down the stretch," Green said. “They got punched in the face, and what I shared was, ‘You wiped yourself off and you got back to Liberty basketball.’”

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Liberty sophomore Jess Littlejohn recovers the ball in the second half of the Lions' win over South Carroll in Eldersburg Monday, Jan. 6, 2019.
Liberty sophomore Jess Littlejohn recovers the ball in the second half of the Lions' win over South Carroll in Eldersburg Monday, Jan. 6, 2019. (Dylan Slagle)

The Lions’ 14-point lead dwindled to four at 53-49 with 1:24 remaining, but they closed the game on a 10-2 run to seal the win. Jess Littlejohn’s steal-turned-layup with 58 seconds to go pushed Liberty’s lead back to eight points, and she sank a pair of free throws two possessions later to ice it.

The sophomore led the Lions with 17 points, a game high, and added four assists. She was also part of a Liberty defense that forced 20 turnovers and featured a handful of players that swarmed to the ball whenever possible.

Littlejohn, who had nine points in the fourth, said the Lions’ success depends on it.

“It’s so much fun,” she said about Liberty’s up-tempo style. “Being able to run out and get that easy layup every single time ... it’s pretty much our main philosophy. Just go out and run.”

Liberty senior forward Rachel Thiem finished with 14 points, five rebounds, and four assists, and junior center Samantha Hardy grabbed six boards to go with four blocks.

South Carroll kept things close in the fourth with its own stiff defense and nine points from junior guard Grace Oetken. The Cavs forced Liberty into seven turnovers — five in a row that led to six points, and when Sydni Carroll converted one of those giveaways into a layup SC trailed 53-49 with less than 90 seconds to play.

But the Cavaliers committed two more turnovers after that and fell a little short. Oetken had 16 points to lead her team, and Rachel Tackett netted 14 (she had 12 points in the third quarter).

South Carroll's Paige Abbott and Liberty junior Kayla Allen crash to the court during the first half of their game in Eldersburg Monday, Jan. 6, 2019.
South Carroll's Paige Abbott and Liberty junior Kayla Allen crash to the court during the first half of their game in Eldersburg Monday, Jan. 6, 2019. (Dylan Slagle)

SC coach Jim Shea’s team has been hampered with injuries, from senior forward Ashleigh Zepp being out for the season, to all-county guard Bethany Fowler (knee) and senior guard Kennedy Evans (ankle) both missing time. Shea said he’s hoping Evans and Fowler are be back soon, which will likely add more offense to the mix.

“It’s tough for us to score right know, but we can [hang] out hats on that defense," Shea said. “That’s three big players from last year that I don’t have right now. I think they pressure they put on, we tried to play that the whole game. But it’s hard for a teenager to get in that mindset of, ‘We need this win in the first quarter.’”

Liberty had its share of struggles against South Carroll’s defense, but the Lions should have more chances this week to work things out. They travel to Patterson Mill on Wednesday before returning home Friday to take on Westminster in an early-season pivotal CCAL matchup.

“I feel like last year was just our learning experience ... this year we have more of a bond,” Littlejohn said. “We’ve learned how to work together this year.”

South Carroll (51): Sydni Carroll 6, Lauren Habighorst 3, Paige Abbott 4, Shannon McTavish 2, Grace Oetken 16, Sarah Vaught 6, Rachel Tackett 14.

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Liberty (63): Kayla Allen 10, Samantha Hardy 9, Rachel Thiem 14, Jordan Nastos 8, Alex Bull 5, Jess Littlejohn 17.

Halftime: Liberty, 27-19.

JV score: Liberty, 51-42 (L-Jenna Liska 17 points).

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