Freedom (21-6) was able to control both emotions and the scoreboard late in the game, emerging with a 67-53 victory.
“Liberty’s a really good team,” Falcons head coach Drew Torres said. “For us to beat them three times is very difficult, but our guys stepped up.”
The teams were tied midway through the second half, and it looked as if the Lions might pull off the upset on Freedom’s home court. But clutch fourth-quarter shots by junior guard James O’Neal tipped the scales in the Falcons’ favor.
O’Neal finished with 14 points. Senior guard Jelani Hardaway led all Freedom scorers with 17, while sophomore forward Elliot Smith hauled in 15 points.
Liberty head coach Jon Heinz commended Freedom after the game and said the success of the two formerly underachieving teams showed how far the league has come in recent years.
Junior guard Brandon White led the Lions with 17 points; senior guard Juwan Blakley contributed 14.
The loss ended one of the best seasons in Liberty history. The Lions finished 21-6, defeated league champ Deer Valley in the regular season and hosted a playoff game for the first time since 1985. Heinz believes the experience will help returning athletes such as White and sophomore forward Jonathan Galloway.
“Now the kids know what it takes to get to that level,” Heinz said.
Freedom advances to face Bay Valley Athletic League foe Deer Valley in Antioch on Wednesday night in the semifinals.
Deer Valley 61, San Leandro 60
For most of Friday’s game, when Deer Valley absolutely, positively had to make a shot, it couldn’t.
Throughout the fourth quarter, the Wolverines trailed by one possession, but couldn’t tie it up or break through. Free throws bounced out. Layups missed the mark. Three pointers landed in San Leandro players’ hands.
In the waning seconds of the game, Deer Valley’s Kendall Smith scored the most important two of his 15 points when he gave his team a 61-60 lead it did not relinquish. The Wolverines staved off an upset by defeating the Pirates in the second round of the NCS playoffs.
For most of the game, it looked like No. 7 seeded San Leandro might walk out of No. 2 Deer Valley’s gym with a major victory. The Pirates led the Wolverines 38-30 at halftime and maintained the lead for most of the second half.
“We came out and had a bad first half,” Deer Valley head coach LeChet Phillips said. “The guys felt like they were ready.”
As the frustration became more palpable, the Deer Valley crowd grew louder. When Smith's shot went down with less than 10 seconds on the clock, frustration became instant elation – the DV section of the stands exploded.
The Pirates ran the ball down the court, then called a timeout with 2.3 seconds left. San Leandro’s plan failed, as the inbounds pass fell into the hands of Deer Valley sophomore guard Nsimba Webster, an invitation for the fans to storm the court.
Wolverines junior center Marcus Lee finished with 16 points – all in the second half. Senior guard Dylan Williams and senior forward Noah Labonte each netted 10 points.
Pirates junior Dejon Budreaux scored a game-high 22 points. Junior Isiah Thompson notched a 14-point night and junior Kiki Hall contributed 13.
De La Salle 71, Heritage 41
Following a hard-earned victory in the first round over Berkeley, Heritage drew a tough foe in the second game – top-seeded De La Salle, in Concord.
The Spartans ended the Patriots’ season in a 71-41 loss on Friday night. De La Salle senior guard Amadi Udenyi scored a game-high 23 points. Heritage sophomore center Shon Briggs had quite a night as well, contributing 18 points. Junior guard Pierre Carter was the next-highest Patriot (17-11) scorer, with 6.
Deer Valley 52, Amador Valley 40
Deer Valley’s girls basketball team maintained control over most of Friday night’s contest against Amador Valley. Though the Wolverines ended the night with a 52-40 victory, the Dons made a respectable second-half run and challenged Deer Valley on its home court.
The No. 2 seeded Wolverines took a 12-point lead into the locker room at halftime and things seemed to be business as usual.
However, the No. 10 seeded Dons weren’t amused. Amador Valley outscored Deer Valley 19-8 in the third quarter and took a one-point lead with 38.4 seconds remaining in that frame.
The advantage was short-lived. Aided by scoring from senior guard Monique Mulder and key blocks from sophomore center Alexandra Cephas, the Wolverines quickly regained the lead and kept it.
Mulder finished with a team-high 18 points and contributed six assists and six steals to the stat sheet. Junior guard Sabrea Coleman scored nine points against the Dons, snagging eight rebounds and dishing five assists.
Sophomore post player Courtney Seams was Amador Valley’s high scorer, with 12.
Deer Valley moves on to the semifinals, hosting Mission San Jose on Wednesday night.
Heritage 44, Castro Valley 34
Heritage will also be moving on to the semifinals, after an impressive upset win over Castro Valley. The No. 5 seeded Patriots defeated the No. 4 Trojans 44-34 on Friday night in Castro Valley.
Senior forward Jaszmyn Arsenault led all Heritage scorers with 12. Junior guard Erin Asher contributed 11 more to the winning effort.
The Patriots were forced to overcome their share of foul trouble, as starters Ali Ramirez and Kiah Knox fouled out in the fourth quarter.
Senior guard Elena Ala was the Trojans’ high-scorer, netting 13 in the loss.
Heritage has another tough task ahead, as the Patriots travel to Berkeley on Wednesday to face the No. 1 seeded Yellowjackets.