“It’s nice when you win on Senior Night, especially against your rival,” said Freedom Coach Jeff Jonas. “I’m really happy for the seniors to get this win.”
But the win didn’t come easy. The teams fought hard throughout the contest, constantly swapping the lead, with the edge slightly in Liberty’s favor. The Lions led by two points at the end of the first quarter, by three points at the half and by two points at the end of the third quarter.
The game’s turning point came toward the end of the third quarter when Liberty’s dominant, 6-foot center Abby Lange got into foul trouble and came out of the game. By that time she had already scored 14 points, more than anyone else notched for the entire contest. But Lange would not score again after fouling out early in the fourth quarter, and Liberty sorely missed her offense and defensive rebounding.
Jonas, looking a bit like Daddy Warbucks with his shaved head and three-piece suit, prowled the sidelines calling out plays, encouraging and occasionally yelling at his players in an attempt to fire them up to take advantage of their opportunity. The Freedom girls responded by stepping up their defense.
But it was still anybody’s game with 23 seconds to go and the Falcons clinging to a two-point lead. Freedom sealed it at the foul line as Iyana O’Neal made both of her shots and Ashley Resendez hit one of two, providing a five-point cushion with five seconds left. Liberty’s Shaunika Lee hit a three-pointer at the buzzer to provide the final score.
“We played great defense all night long,” said Jonas. “We held them in the 30s. We did a much better job tonight with our ball pressure; we forced a lot of turnovers; we made hard possessions for them. Anytime you do that, you give yourself a chance to win. We don’t have a true prolific scorer. So that means you’d better play some defense to keep the score down.”
Liberty Coach Debbi Weil declined to comment after the game.
Freedom ends its season tonight, Feb. 20, at Heritage, while Liberty finishes at home against the Deer Valley powerhouse. Both are 7 p.m. starts.