LIBERTY – After losing their first game of the season last week to Brookfield, the Liberty Leopards played with a little more motivation. This loss marked them.
On Thursday, the team fought off a late rally from Garfield to defeat the G-Men 54-50. Garfield fought back from a 30-18 halftime deficit and kept the Leopards on their toes until the dying seconds.
“They have an excellent shooter, a solid post player, they have a dynamic duo”, Liberty coach Deidre Watson said. “It was a critical step for us to secure the conference title, at least part of it, we still have a few games to go. We just talked about playing strong defense, making sure we keep (Sarah Seaman) and (Jenna Smith) and play as loud as possible.
While locked down by the Leopards defense throughout the game, the pair of Seaman and Smith played a huge part in that 32-point second half. Both girls scored 19 points.
Luckily for Liberty though, in the final minute the defense forced some crucial saves that saved the game. Then the Leopards were able to crown the game on the free throw line.
“We kind of made mental mistakes” said Watson. “I think Sarah Seaman got hot and knocked down a couple 3s. We regrouped, put our defense back together and ended up with the win. Close game, but hats off to them because they played us very hard.
To say Brookfield’s loss stayed with the Leopards (15-1, 9-1) is perhaps an understatement. A week later, the girls use this loss as motivation to come out stronger and make sure they don’t lose another game.
“The girls talked about Brookfield and losing and they don’t want to lose anymore,” said Watson. “We just talked about the things we need to do better. Coming out more aggressive for one, and not taking wins for granted because the kids will come out and play us.
Cianna Smith led the team with a game-high 20 points. Aaliyah Foster fired at 18.
Things started to look good for Garfield in the second half all of a sudden. In the words of coach Aaron Gilbert, “something clicked.”
“I mean, four points like it was last time,” said Gilbert. “That first half we just couldn’t hit a shot. Missed layups, then they had open shots and we couldn’t hit any open shots. Then in the second half, something thing just clicked. We went down, I think it ended up stretching to 18 and then something clicked.
“I don’t know what happened in the first half, we just weren’t ourselves. I don’t know if it wasn’t going to school or what, but we, what whatever, we no longer had a routine.
In the second half however, the G-Men found themselves. Gilbert made sure to remind them not to lower their heads because Liberty would smell blood in the water.
“I just told them you had to fight” he said. “I basically said if you don’t step in they’re going to put 80 on us and we did that. I think we limited the throw-ins better in the second half, and we let some leaks happen. , but when you’re down you have to take risks. All you can ask for is a chance and we had a chance in the end and that’s all we hoped for.
Garfield (10-6, 7-3) looks to recover Saturday with a midday game against Champion.
The Leopards host Newton Falls tonight at 5:30 p.m. in a doubleheader with the boys.