Liberty sophomore Sydney Offield sticks to a strict routine before every free throw. It starts with a Bible verse she mutters in her head, one about finding the strength to do all things.
She takes one dribble. Another dribble. Then she spins the ball through the air until the grooves fit into her hands just right.
“It’s just something that helps me relax and clear my head,” Offield said. “It makes me more comfortable.”
The routine came in handy Friday night.
With 0.6 seconds on the clock, Offield made a pair of free throws to lift Liberty to a 54-52 win Friday against Blue Springs South in the championship game of the 35th annual Northland Classic at North Kansas City High School.
“She’s a player you want taking those shots,” Liberty coach Noah Simpson said. “She shoots free throws really well, but more than anything, when it gets tight, it doesn’t affect her. Having a chance to win the game with her at the free throw line — that’s perfect.”
The free throws capped a frantic final 30 seconds seconds.
With the game tied at 52, Blue Springs South held the ball for the final shot with a chance to win the game. But Offield stole a pass, then dribbled the length of the court before drawing the foul.
Her free throws marked the sixth lead change of the game — all in the second half after Liberty held control in the first half.
“That’s a fun team to play against because they play so hard and we play so hard,” Simpson said. “It’s a blast because you know it’s going to be a battle every time.”
It certainly has been this season for the Suburban Gold Conference foes, who are currently tied atop the league standings at 3-1.
Liberty, 13-5, needed double overtime to defeat Blue Springs South by two points in the teams’ first meeting this season. The Blue Jays were lucky to avoid the extra period this time.
Blue Springs South, 14-5, took a four-point lead with less than two minutes remaining after Remy Davenport nailed a deep three-pointer and Brooke Neal followed with a layup. Davenport led the Jaguars with 14 points.
Liberty, however, responded quickly, and Offield hit a pair of free throws to draw even with 23.6 seconds remaining, setting up the late-game drama.
Abby Gentrup led Liberty with 18 points, including four-three pointers. She scored 11 in the third quarter.
Blue Springs South finished 10 of 23 from the free-throw line and missed 10 freebies in the second half. The Jaguars will have one more shot at Liberty on Feb. 20.
“This is my fourth game against Liberty, and every one of them has been like this,” Blue Springs South coach Brad Oyler said. “Unfortunately we’ve been on the short end of the stick every time. We have one more chance to change that.”