Liberty never led through two and a half quarters against Shawnee Mission Northwest on Saturday afternoon in the championship game of the Truman High School Girls Basketball Tournament.
At times, shots were not falling. Other times, the 1-3-1 zone bothered the Blue Jays. SM Northwest’s inside-outside game posed more problems.
By midway through the second quarter, Liberty stared at a 20-10 deficit.
“We stayed positive,” said Liberty junior Chiarra Franklin.
Liberty coach Noah Simpson liked the body language of his team, regardless of the scoreboard.
“Kids are high-fiving each other and smiling and joking during timeouts,” Simpson said. “It is different from where we were at three or four weeks ago. We were feeling the pressure of trying to get things going. Now we have a little bit of confidence.”
It definitely showed because Liberty fought back and won the game, 65-57, against the Cougars, who entered the game with only one loss.
“It means so much,” Liberty sophomore McKenzie Hull said. “It shows how much hard work pays off and when you play as a team, we can do amazing things.”
To get to the Truman tournament championship game, Liberty beat Columbia Rock Bridge, which is 12-4.
“This has been a really good week for us in this tournament to see where we are at,” Simpson said. “We faced Rock Bridge on Thursday and Shawnee Mission Northwest (Saturday). You can’t play any better teams than that right now.”
Liberty is among those elite teams. They left the Truman tournament with a 12-2 record.
The Blue Jays used teamwork to claw back into the game against SM Northwest. Junior Taylor Gerstner scored all six of her points in the second quarter and that helped Liberty to close to 24-22 at halftime.
Trailing 36-32 late in the third quarter, Liberty took over. It started with Hull making a three-pointer. Franklin gave Liberty the lead for good with a basket.
Hull solidified the lead with another three-pointer, building Liberty’s lead to 40-36. The quarter concluded with a basket by junior Sydney Offield.
The first points Liberty scored in the fourth quarter came on another three-pointer by Hull, who struggled with her shot in the first half.
“In the first half, it was a little bit of a struggle, but I had to keep my head up because it was going to be a battle no matter what,” Hull said. “I had to keep shooting no matter what.”
Another top scorer for Liberty was junior Morgan Fleming, who also found her shot in the second half. After being held scoreless in the first half, Fleming finished with 11 points. She went 4-for-4 from the free the line in the fourth quarter.
The 15-2 run by Liberty late in the third quarter and early in the fourth was the difference. They reversed a 36-32 deficit to a 47-38 lead.
“I’m not sure a team can play much better than that,” Simpson said. “We tell our kids all the time that they have the green light to shoot. McKenzie steps out and hits threes. Chiarra normally plays on the post, but she has been shooting the outside shot. We just have kids who are starting to open up and express themselves and doing a great job.
“I’m not saying we are anywhere close to where we want to be, because we are midway through the season. But I think our kids are playing with a lot of confidence. I couldn’t be more proud of them.”
Games of the week
St. Pius X at Smithville, 7 p.m. Friday
As both teams compete for their respective conference championships, Smithville and St. Pius X will take a break from league play for an intriguing midseason matchup.
Smithville, 13-3, led by senior guard Kelsey Mothershead and junior forward Carly Adams, has held five straight opponents under 40 points. The Warriors have climbed to No. 7 in the latest Missouri Class 4 coaches poll.
St. Pius X, sits at No. 9 in Missouri Class 3, and that number could be on the rise. The Warriors’ two losses came by a combined six points, and all but one of their 13 victories featured a double-digit margin.
St. Pius X has four players averaging at least seven points per game this season, and none of them are upperclassmen — sophomore Abby Hipp (13.6), Natalie Denzer (9.2), sophomore Amanda Hayes (7.4) and freshman Antoinette Mussorici (7.0). Hipp also leads the team with nine rebounds per contest.
| Sam McDowell, email@example.com
Lee’s Summit North at Lee’s Summit, 7 p.m. Monday
A year after Lee’s Summit North won the Suburban Gold Conference, it returned only three varsity letter winners. That’s made for some early-season lumps, especially on the offensive end.
The Broncos, 6-9, have been held under 40 points in two-thirds of their games this season, but the steady improvement of forward Aaliyah Johnson could soon change those offensive woes.
If a rebuilding year forces the Broncos to vacate their spot atop the conference, Lee’s Summit plans to be one of the teams vying for it.
The Tigers, 9-7, have already surpassed last season’s win total, though they have lost four straight games — all of them by single digits. With only two of those against conference foes, however, there’s plenty of time to make a bounce back into the thick of the race.
| Sam McDowell, firstname.lastname@example.org