Howland's tower power keeps Liberty in check in 53-28 victory

Alexa Williams had 19 points and 10 rebounds against the Leopards, who suffered early foul trouble.
AUSTINTOWN -- "They had too much height," said Liberty High coach John Hritz as one of the reasons why his Leopards lost to top-seeded Howland, 53-28, in the girls Division II district tournament at Fitch High Thursday night.
But Hritz had an even more telling reasons for the defeat: "Give Howland credit. They have great balance -- a good inside and outside game. It's tough to match up with them."
And the Tigers played great defense.
But the key force was Alexa Williams, a 6-foot-1 sophomore who scored 19 points and grabbed 10 rebounds. She picked up some of the slack for 6-3 junior Ellie Shields, who was sick before the game and didn't start but managed to come in later and contribute nine points and six rebounds.
Williams and Shields had good support. Carly Sabat, a 5-6 junior, also had nine points, and Allie Airhart, a 5-5 sophomore, contributed eight.
Howland (19-4) advanced to the district final Saturday at 1 p.m. against Salem (18-5), which advanced with a 46-42 win over Rayen in Thursday's nightcap. The Howland-Salem (18-5) winner will qualify for the Barberton Regional.
Diehl praises Williams
Coach John Diehl of Howland said that Williams has developed into an aggressive player of late.
"Alexa has picked up her game in the last two-three weeks. She is scoring a lot better. Alexa is playing more aggressive," said Diehl, noting that Williams finally has recovered from a previous injury.
"She sprained her ankle during soccer [season] and only now is she more confident that her injury has healed."
But Diehl said the entire team is playing well. "The last two weeks we have been playing better basketball," he said.
Williams believes she is playing better because "I'm focusing a lot more on my shots."
But she also said practicing against Shields, who is 2 inches taller her, has made her a stronger competitor on the inside.
"I like mixing it up inside," said Williams. "Ellie and I both guard each other at practice, so we are used to playing against taller players. That helps us out a lot whenever we go to play a taller team.
Liberty lacks scoring
No. 4-seeded Liberty (14-8) was unable to put anyone in double figures and was led by Michelle Dykes, a 5-7 junior, with seven points. Katrina Neskovich, a 6-1 junior, and Brianna Pettway, a 5-5 sophomore, added six points each.
"Early foul trouble hurt us," said Hritz. "Pettway and Neskovich both played with bad ankles."
Howland's height advantage and strong defensive play turned the game into a runaway early in the second quarter.
The Tigers reeled off 18 unanswered points with a balanced attack for a 33-9 lead early in the third period.
Meanwhile, Liberty managed only two points in the second quarter.
Then Williams went on the attack, scoring eight of the Tigers' next 12 points to help them to a 45-20 advantage early in the final period.

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