In his final timeout of a Missouri Class 5 girls semifinal game, Liberty coach Noah Simpson spent the bulk of his allotted 60 seconds pleading with his team to rebound the basketball. In particular, he pointed toward his lone senior starter, Chiarra Franklin, the team’s leading rebounder who would later criticize her own efforts on the boards.
She grabbed the one that mattered most.
Franklin turned an offensive rebound into a game-winning layup as time expired, lifting Liberty to a 55-54 win Friday against Creve Coeur Parkway North.
That supplied the sixth lead change over the final 5 minutes and clinched Liberty a spot in the state championship, where it will face Columbia Rock Bridge at 8:30 p.m. Saturday at Mizzou Arena.
“I told myself if it was a miss, I was going to get the rebound and at least get a foul,” Franklin said. “To make it and (hear) the buzzer sound, that was an amazing feeling.”
The feeling was mutual for Liberty junior Morgan Fleming, who missed the second of two free throws with 3.8 seconds remaining, setting up Franklin’s game-winning bucket.
“I've never been so happy to miss a free throw,” said Fleming, who scored a game-high 20 points.
Franklin’s bucket saved Liberty from a second-half collapse.
The Blue Jays, 27-3, led 41-30 midway through the third quarter before Parkway North strung together a 15-1 run — aided by a swarming defense that forced 10 second-half turnovers.
That set up a frantic final 5 minutes in which the teams flip-flopped six leads — none of them more than three points.
“I can’t wait to go back and watch it,” Simpson said of the game.
Parkway North, 24-6, stayed alive with an offensive rebounding effort that produced 13 second-chance points, all but two of them after halftime. Alecia Sutton led the Vikings with 14 points, seven rebounds and four assists.
But it came in a losing effort.
Liberty will be facing three-time defending state champion Rock Bridge for the title. Liberty upended Rock Bridge 47-43 in a tournament game on Jan. 22.
“It feels great to have beaten them before, but that game doesn't matter," Simpson said. "It's a midseason game. I'll take a state title over (winning) a midseason game anytime.”