Westminster spent two-and-a-half quarters of basketball trying to play catch-up against Liberty on Friday.
The Owls had to pull themselves out of an 11-1 first-quarter deficit to finally find their rhythm, but their resiliency shined as they gradually mounted a nail-biting comeback to defeat the Lions 50-46, good for their fourth straight win this winter.
Senior guard Maddie Olexy scored a game-high 16 points, including 11 in the second quarter that helped the Owls break out of their offensive funk. Senior forward Lillian Harris added 12 points and six rebounds, and sophomore forward Meghan Ruth had eight boards and five steals for the Owls (8-3, 4-0 CCAL).
“I think we were scared because we knew this was going to be our biggest competition in the county,” Olexy said. “We came out timid and you could tell because that was definitely our biggest challenge, just getting through the fact that they thought they were the number one team in the county and we had to really step it up.
“It took a little bit of time for us to just settle down and realize we could compete with them.”
Liberty senior Rachel Thiem sank a pair of baskets to put the hosts up 15-3 before Olexy sparked an 8-0 run for the Owls in the second quarter. Thiem’s layup with 3:02 remaining broke the Owls’ run, but Olexy was quick to bounce back with another basket.
A 3-pointer from sophomore Jess Littlejohn put the Lions up 20-13 with two minutes to play, but five straight points from Olexy brought the Owls within four of the Lions at the break.
The Owls scored 17 points in the second quarter to start their comeback — Olexy was responsible for 11 of those points and senior forward Lillian Harris scored four.
The Owls were down 27-24 when senior guard Mallory Phillips sank a 3-pointer to tie the score with 3:04 remaining, and the Owls charged on. The teams were tied at 34-34 after three to set up a fourth-quarter battle.
“Mallory came in and got points in the third quarter where one was that 3-pointer … and those were key moments,” Owls coach Dave Urban said. “Jillian Pumputis had a few great looks and got the ball to the right spot, but her job tonight was to get the ball out against the pressure into areas where we could attack.
“That’s where everybody just started to blossom where we got into space and recognized the attack.”
The first five points went to Westminster until a 3 from Liberty’s Kayla Allen brought the Lions within two with 5:40 to go. Another 3 from Littlejohn put the host squad up by one, 42-41, but Liberty wouldn’t lead again.
The teams took a trio of timeouts with less than a minute on the clock to assess game plans after a pair of free throws from Thiem brought the Lions within two, 48-46. The Lions had the ball with 12.2 seconds on the clock, but it was pushed out of bounds and the Owls took over with 9.3 seconds.
Harris sank a pair of free throws after one final timeout to secure the victory.
“We can go really deep into our bench,” Harris said. “Some teams in the county, they can go seven, maybe eight, but we have everyone on our team we can sub in and out to get quick breaks and that keeps everyone fresh.”