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Girls Basketball: Griffin leads Liberty past Oakland Mills

Blue banners hang above the visitor bleachers in the Liberty High gymnasium.

Each banner represents a varsity sport. Every time a team wins a region championship, the year is added in gold letters.

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The girls basketball banner lists two region titles: 1983 and 2010. This year's Liberty seniors are seeking a third.

Junior Grace Griffin had 12 points and 14 rebounds and senior Olivia Thompson had a team-high 17 points in Liberty's 59-48 win over Howard County's Oakland Mills in a Class 2A West Section 2 semifinal.

The Lions (15-7) will host South Carroll in the Section 2 final Thursday night. The Cavaliers (16-7) won 47-41 over Winters Mill.

In the regular season, Liberty won both matchups against South Carroll. The Lions won 45-40 at South Carroll on Jan. 7. Liberty won 45-35 at home against the Cavaliers on Feb. 4.

The Lions are led by a senior class who has come so close to postseason championships while playing multiple sports. Last year, Liberty lost to Frederick County's Oakdale in the Class 2A West championship.

Thompson, a senior captain and the last player introduced during starting lineup announcements, said the Lions have not forgotten past setbacks and use them as motivation.

"We're all excited," Thompson said. "Knowing this is our senior year and our last chance gives us the motivation to play our hearts out."

Liberty's seniors, led by Thompson, Maddee Farley (11 points) and Lexi Jones (15 points, seven rebounds) are complimented by Griffin, a junior guard and an excellent rebounder. She added seven assists and six steals as well.

While the Lions lack tall post players, their guards make up for it by boxing out and going after rebounds. The key to excellent rebounding is positioning, anticipation and athleticism, coach Barry Green said.

"Gracie anticipates very well," he said. "She is the best on our team at knowing where the ball is going."

The Lions never trailed against Oakland Mills. Thompson hit two first quarter 3-pointers, pushing the Lions to a 22-9 lead. The first quarter ended with Jones finding Thompson slashing to the basket for an easy layup.

By halftime, the Lions led by 18. Thompson, Farley, Griffin and Jones all had at least eight points in the first two quarters. The Lions played unselfish and found teammates cutting to the basket.

The second half was a different story. Too many fouls, too many turnovers and shooting worse than 20 percent allowed Oakland Mills to stay in the game.

Oakland Mills senior forward Ny'Jayha Lockwood had a game-high 23 points, despite being saddled with three first-half fouls.

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The Lions, a senior bunch that knows what it takes, said those were moments they could learn from. In a difficult 2A West Region, the Lions will have to be at their best. In three months, the Liberty seniors will be at their graduation ceremony. Time is running out on their high school playing days, a sense of urgency is palpable.

"We know this our last chance," Jones said. "We need to just go all out. We're confident, and we have faith in our juniors."

The chance to add the year 2016 to the blue and gold girls basketball banner in the gymnasium has been a goal since the season started. The players still remember last year's region final setback.

"That," Jones said, "is what is really giving us motivation."

Liberty (59): Olivia Thompson 17, Lexi Jones 15, Grace Griffin 12, Maddee Farley 11, Taylor Jackson 2, Hannah Miller 2.

Oakland Mills (48): Ny'Jayha Lockwood 23, Theda Jackson 14, Brittany Weiss 5, Kyrah Pacheco 6.

Halftime: Liberty, 43-25.

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