By Greg Morse (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
The Liberal boys came into the Golden City Tournament championship game aiming for a fifth title in the last eight years of the tournament.
No. 1 seed and host Golden City stood in the way of the Bulldogs and their goal of a tournament championship.
“We played these guys early before Christmas, and this is their home tournament so I knew they would come hungry,” said Liberal head coach Travis Walton, “We knew they were coming with a vengeance and were going to want to win one.”
Liberal would get their fifth title in eight years by upsetting the host 56-43.
The Bulldogs got out to a dominant start with an 11-3 to open the game on the way to a 15-6 advantage after one quarter. After Liberal went on an 11-3 run to start the game, the championship seemed out of reach by the end of the first quarter as the Eagles were down 15-6.
Led by junior Colton Slinker’s eight points in the second quarter, the Bulldogs continued their march toward that fifth trophy taking a 31-16 lead into halftime.
“Every game, I play for the team and play for the win. Anything to help us get the win,” said Slinker, who also went 3 for 5 from the free throw line, scoring a total of 15 points.
Not to be outdone, teammate senior Gabe Daniels also had a big night scoring 10 points including a three-pointer.
“We grew up together, and we just continue to play as a team,” said Daniels.
They both highlighted the fact that the Bulldogs won the game by sharing the ball and working together as a team. There wasn’t one single dominant player for the Bulldogs, but rather several players all had a big hand in winning the trophy. This team-oriented focus especially showed in the second half.
Coming out of halftime, the Eagles were not ready to go down without a fight. Golden City went on an 11-3 run to get the score to 42-35 with just a few minutes remaining in the third quarter. Down just seven points, the Eagles relied heavily on juniors Arlo Stump, Eliab Cifuentes and sophomore Lane Dunlap whom all had 10 points each on the night.
“We just told each other to keep playing as a team and not worry about what they were doing,” said Daniels, “They were playing hard defense but we just have to keep the offense going.”
Even Bulldogs head coach Travis Walton was impressed: “Golden City did a wonderful job of coming back. We scored a lot of points in the third quarter, and it’s easy when a team’s already beaten to you kinda just lay down, but those kids fought their tails off.”
Ultimately, Liberal maintained their lead, clamping down on a feisty Eagles team and sealed the victory 56-43.
“We just tried to get our guys to stay poised. I felt like we were just rushing and getting away from what we do. Once we calmed down and did things the way we do basketball, we settled down and good things started to happen,” said Walton.
Junior Colby Selvey also scored nine points for the Bulldogs, while Sophomore Chain Parrill had five points for the Eagles.