Liberty beats Clever, upsets Strafford to reach state

By Matt Turer — mturer@ky3.com
@MattTurer

Sarcoxie, Mo. — The 2014 Class 2 state champion is heading back to state.

MV-BT/Liberty swept Clever (25-20, 25-21) in the quarterfinals after an emotionally charged upset win earlier Saturday in its sectional matchup with Strafford (19-25, 25-23, 27-25).

Clever, which dispatched Sarcoxie (24-6-3) in straight sets in its sectional matchup, hung with the Eagles, trailing 18-17 in both sets before trailing away late (25-23, 25-19).

CLICK HERE FOR CLEVER VS. LIBERTY PHOTO GALLERY
CLICK HERE FOR LIBERTY VS. STRAFFORD PHOTO GALLERY
CLICK HERE FOR SARCOXIE VS. CLEVER PHOTO GALLERY

The lingering question after Liberty’s win over Strafford (31-2-1) was if the Eagles (28-6-1) would come out with the same passion against Clever (23-10-3). Luckily, that’s something head coach Shari Tune had been prepping for all week.

“I told the girls this week that Strafford is our biggest focus right now, but, even if we do get that win, we have to be ready for the next game,” Tune said. “It’s hard to forget a win that big, but you have to move on. You visualize what’s going to happen on the floor, what the crowd is going to be like, and you prepare yourself.”

While that preparation seemed to work, it didn’t create any separation from a tough Clever bunch. Neither team led by more than one point in the first set of the quarterfinals until Liberty went up 10-8 on the Blue Jays.

With the Eagles leading 16-10, Clever rallied, eventually tying things, 18-18. But Liberty would score the next three points, pulling away to win Set 1, 25-21.

Set 2 followed a similar path, with Liberty leading 6-3 early before Clever closed the gap to 10-9. Liberty would extend its lead to 14-10, but Clever would again battle back, getting within one at 18-17. The Eagles, however, never let Clever grab the lead.

Liberty led 22-20 and would score the final three points to win the match and advance to state.

Brenley Stearns recorded the kill on the winner for Liberty with a soft touch over the net that fell untouched onto the old hardwood inside Sarcoxie’s gym. Stearns led Liberty with nine kills in the quarterfinals and recorded 15 total on the day.

Brook Conway had 11 assists for Liberty against Clever and added 10 in the win over Strafford.

“This season, we were the underdogs, which is where I always want to be,” Tune said. “That’s my favorite spot to be. So we don’t always have that pressure.”

Liberty will face Hermann (20-9-2) in the Class 2 Final Four on Friday.

Liberty’s 2014 state champion run started just like today, beating Strafford in three sets and sweeping Clever.

“This group is nothing like that state championship group that I had [in 2014], but they have that same potential,” Tune said. “Mentally, they’re quite. They weren’t that quiet today, though. They’re a different type of team, but they are just as talented.”