After a sluggish first half, Liberty found its groove and rallied for a 53-46 victory over Francis Howell on Friday in the Missouri Class 5 girls basketball third-place game at Mizzou Arena.
Liberty failed to score a basket in the first quarter and had just one in the second quarter, when Sydney Offield hit a jumper with 7:21 left in the first half. Eleven made free throws helped the Blue Jays stay within striking distance, down 21-13 at halftime.
Other signs of Liberty’s first-half struggles were Francis Howell’s nine offensive rebounds and Blue Jays’ leading scorer Morgan Fleming being held scoreless.
“We had a really good talk at halftime about the legacy that we wanted to leave,” Liberty coach Noah Simpson said. “I felt like it was left.”
Liberty outscored Francis Howell 19-10 in the third quarter and grabbed its first lead when Nicole Griffin made a basket with 2:56 left in the third period. Fleming scored nine points in the third quarter.
Francis Howell closed to within 44-41 on a basket by Morgan Wilborn with 1:52 left in the game. But Fleming responded with a jumper in the lane that put the Blue Jays up 46-41. Liberty then hit seven free throws down the stretch to seal the victory.
Fleming finished with a team-high 17 points for Liberty, which finished its season 27-4. She reflected on the task the Blue Jays faced, having to play in the third-place game after setting their goal on a state final appearance.
“It took a lot of courage to come back this morning and play,” said a tearful Fleming, one of six seniors on the Liberty roster. “Based on our expectations for this weekend, that just shows how much our teammates love each other for what we did today.”