By STEPHEN WILAJ
Going into his team’s season-opener, Liberty High girls basketball coach Ron DeJulio made a simple statement.
“What I told them was, defensively, we had to win the basketball game,” DeJulio said of his speech to his Leopards.
DeJulio received exactly what he asked for as the Leopards defeated Warren JFK, 53-34, on Friday at Warren JFK’s Gillen Gymnasium.
“I thought we did a great job playing defense,” DeJulio said. “It set up everything we did on offense.”
Using that defense, Liberty (1-0) jumped out to a 25-14 halftime lead. The beneficiary of the first half effort was Leah Leshnack, who scored 10 points in the second quarter.
“Defense wins games,” Leshnak said. “We had good defense and it showed.”
Leshnak, finishing with a game-high 25 points, added that the Leopards offense was no slouch either.
“The key to our offense was our passing and being selfless,” Leshnak said. “It was a good team effort.”
Liberty was indeed selfless as Kim Staples chipped in with 14 points and Rachel Crum added 12. Warren JFK coach John Batos credited the Leopards’ offense.
“They were very aggressive in their half-court offense,” Batos said. “They made the extra pass when they had to. They knew who their shooters were and got the ball to them.
“And I really think they did a nice job on the glass,” Batos said. “When you do two or three of those things really well, you really have a good chance of winning a basketball game.”
Although Liberty led throughout, the Eagles (0-1) looked as if they might have a chance, cutting the lead to 11 at the beginning of the fourth quarter.
“We made a layup and I called a timeout, but give Liberty credit,” Batos said. “They didn’t get rattled. They went right back to what they were doing and we couldn’t sustain that same energy.”
Answering the Warren JFK spurt was Leshnak, sinking a couple key layups to put the game out of reach.
“She’s our spark,” DeJulio said. “She gets us going both offensively and defensively, hustles all the time. She’s a pretty good player for us.”
Leshnak, who credited her teammates more than anything for her performance, was just happy to get the victory.
“It feels very good,” she said. “It’s a good way to start off the season for us.”
On the opposite end of the spectrum, the Eagles were led by Calli Kowach with 13 points. Also, Angelene Coates had 11 points and Natalie Ambrosy scored 6.
Batos said his team has plenty of room for improvement.
“We just have to improve a little bit in every area,” Batos said. “When we have breakdowns, as coaches, we have to do a better job of getting our kids in better position. So as coaches we have to do a better job, too.”