By Amanda Perkins (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
Class 2 No. 2 Thayer and Class 3 No. 9 MV-BT Liberty clashed on Tuesday in a game that will go a long way in deciding the SCA championship. It got off to an ugly start for both teams, but it was a beautiful finish for the Liberty Lady Eagles with a 65-52 victory over Thayer.
“That was fun, and a long time coming,” said Liberty head coach Eli Ernst. “That’s a really, really, really good team. Coach Meyer does a great job. They have been tested over and over again and they are phenomenal. Our girls played with a lot of heart and to defend the home floor was a big deal to them. We beat a really good Hartville team here Saturday and a lot of people questioned whether we had the legs to pull off two in a row. I guess we answered their questions.”
Thayer Lady Bobcats head coach Cecil Meyer said his team got off to a slow start.
“I think we scored 10 in the first half with three or four field goals. We got down by close to 26 at one point, then we decided, ‘Let’s be aggressive, let’s get back to doing what we do.’ We cut into it pretty deep but we never could get over the hump,” he said.
The first quarter started off slowly. The Lady Cats saw the start of their foul trouble early, allowing Liberty to pick up three free throws, and turnovers were rampant. Two Kaitlyn King buckets completed the host team’s scoring for seven total points. Thayer added three on an Angel Sorrell jumper and a free throw from Maddy Kerley.
King continued to dominate in the post in the second quarter and added eight points. Teammate Kinley Richards connected from downtown before Thayer answered with a Julie Stone jumper and Angela Sorrell for three. Piper Francis put up two free throws and a three before Trinity Clark closed the half with a layup to bring her team to a 15-point lead, 25-10.
Francis opened the second half with two three-pointers, while Sorrell added four of her own in response for Thayer. The Lady Bobcats began to press, which was out of character for their typical style of play, “but tonight forced us into it,” said Coach Meyer. Shelby Coursey added six in the paint for Thayer and Sorrell tossed up a shot called good at the buzzer, but Thayer trailed by 16 to close the third.
Kinley Richards opened the final frame with a three, but Thayer responded with seven unanswered points. King then put up six of her own for Liberty. Julie Stone broke out with two threes late in the quarter to bring the Lady Bobcats within eight.
But the early deficit would plague Thayer as the Lady Eagles were successful from the charity stripe in the final minutes and picked up five more points.
“I liked their effort in the fourth quarter,” said Meyer. “We became more aggressive on the offensive end. It’s not like we were getting turnovers and easy baskets; we had to face their same defense, we just decided to play a little bit. Down 26, they could’ve just packed it in and gone to the house, and I liked the way they fought there. I think maybe we can use it as a springboard going into the next few weeks and districts.”
Junior center Kaitlyn King led the Lady Eagles with 22 points.
“Getting the win was the best,” she said. “I’m not typically the highest scorer, so it’s pretty surprising for me.”
She credited her teammates and God-given gifts for the performance.
“That makes my heart feel good,” said Ernst of King. “She’s really playing well and has accepted her role, and it just makes us more dynamic having that big girl inside we weren’t able to find last year. She has improved a lot and has put in the work to do it.”
Piper Francis put up 19 points of her own for Liberty, 13 of them in the second half.
“Piper’s game is evolving not just into a pure scorer but a complete player,” said Coach Ernst. “In the past, I know she may come out here and toss up 30 or 40, but she’s got more assists than she’s ever had, she’s pulling more rebounds, she’s getting more steals, and it’s allowing other girls to really step up.”
“Making a good pass to my teammate and her finishing and seeing her happy is just as good as me scoring the ball,” said 2,000-point club member Francis.
Thayer is now 16-3 on the season and MV-BT Liberty moves to 20-2.
As for conference implications, Ernst isn’t ready to accept the trophy yet.
“We’ve got work to do still,” he said. “We play Mountain Grove on Thursday night, we still have to see Willow again and we haven’t seen Ava. We have a lot of basketball left to play before we start crowning us champs.”
Scoring for Liberty: Kaitlyn King, 22; Piper Francis, 19; Kinley Richards, 12; Kamryn Gastineau, 6; Trinity Clark, 6.
Scoring for Thayer: Angela Sorrell, 21; Julie Stone, 18; Shelby Coursey, 7; Maddy Kerley, 6.