The Liberty High girls basketball team continued its storybook season in the first round of the Class 3A Region I playoffs last night.

The Lions used their 1-3-1 zone defense and rebounding strength to thrash North Carroll, 57-42, and advance to the region semifinals at 7p.m. tomorrow at Oakland Mills (Howard County).

"They had tremendous defensive intensity," Liberty coach Tom DeLise said of his team, which was 3-19 last year but improved to 13-8 with last night's win. "These girls left their hearts out on the floor tonight."

The Lions were paced by senior Kelly Foreman, who scored19 and hit nine of 11 from the foul line.

"Kelly's been having a tough time making her foul shots," DeLise said. "But tonight, she wastremendous."

North Carroll, besides being forced into many turnovers by the Lions defense, also had trouble hitting shots early in thegame. The Panthers missed a half-dozen inside shots as they fell behind by 14 points early in the second quarter.

"We couldn't convert," Panthers coach Greg Knill said after the game. "We had chances early to convert, and we didn't."

Liberty quickly threatened to make it a rout, exploding to a 21-7 lead early in the second quarter.

Liberty beat North Carroll to the loose balls, and Foreman and Lisa Pauley helped the Lions dominate the boards. North Carroll rallied to within 10 at 23-13, when Michelle Jeffrey hit a layup with 3 minutes, 10 seconds to play in the quarter.

But a 4-1 Liberty run gave the Lions a 27-14 halftime lead.

The game matched two first-year coaches who took over under very different circumstances.

DeLise inherited a squad that had been to the region playoffs just once in seven seasons and was 35-96 over that span. All he did was have a winning record, win the county title, finish tied for second in the Central Maryland Conference and earn a homecourt advantage in the first round ofthe playoffs.

"I thought we could win 10 or 12 games if we were really lucky," DeLise said earlier this week of his preseason expectations. "We had some players emerge with great seasons."

North Carroll, meanwhile, has been a consistent challenger for county titles over the past few years and often is in the thick of region and CMC battles.

The Panthers were picked by many to win the county and challenge for the CMC title this year, but never were able to overcome a slow start.

Liberty now faces an Oakland Mills team that defeated the Lions by 37 points early in the year and was the top-seeded team inthe region after going 20-2 during the regular season. Several of the Scorpions' players and coaches were in the stands last night, and DeLise hopes his team gave the Howard countians something to think about.

"I hope they're surprised," DeLise said, noting his squad was 2-4 when the teams met early in the season and was still adjusting tohis offensive and defensive formations. "I hope they are in a close ballgame this time."

North Carroll ended the season with an 11-10 record.

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