By ERIC FORTUNE
Say what you will about Andy Saxon and Ron DeJulio. Being coaches for schools that are intense rivals, they played their roles effectively in regard to the rivalry — even if it was in jest.
“We’re good friends,” Saxon said. “We like to joke a bit on the sidelines, bust each other occasionally. It makes for good camaraderie between coaches.”
“Andy and I have been doing this long enough,” DeJulio said. “We know each other. We know what we do. We have a good time out here. We want to win, but we have a good time.”
That win was not in the cards for the Leopards on Thursday as the Indians avenged a December loss with a 62-43 All-American Conference, National Division win on Liberty’s home floor
“The first time we played them, they were still able to get the ball inside on us way too much — too many second and third shots, Saxon said. “This time, we eliminated all that.”
Did they ever.
Alasjia Dykes scored a game-high 21 points for Girard and Bree Bishop had a double-double with 14 points and 14 rebounds.
The Leopards (12-6) were initially hot from the field, making four of their first six shots, but then went cold and the Indians used a 12-3 run to take a 23-12 lead.
“First quarter killed us,” DeJulio said. “First quarter absolutely, positively killed us. We could never recover after it.”
Not completely, anyway.
“We were able to cut it to eight there in the second quarter,” DeJulio said. “We made a run at them. You just can’t do what we did in the first quarter against a good team. They hurt us with their rebounding in the first half.”
Trailing 28-20 at the 3:03 mark of the quarter, after Leah Leshnack split a pair at the line, the Indians closed the first half with another run for a 37-22 lead.
Leshnack led the Leopards with 23 points and kept the Leopards in the game in the first half.
“She’s tough,” Saxon said. “We tried to deny her the ball a little bit and then we tried to double her with certain people, but she can create. She backs us in. She can shoot. She can run the floor. I thought we did okay on her, but we were able to stop the other girls.
The Indians (12-7) took away Liberty’s second-chance opportunities by dominating inside.
“We were out on the screens,” Saxon said. “We switched real well and we did a nice job on the boards. We crashed the boards real well.”
Girard outrebounded Liberty, 43-22. The Leopards went cold in the second half, going 6-for-24 from the field and 14-of-28 from the line.
“It might have been a different game,” DeJulio said. “Our free-throw shooting has not been very good. We’re probably under 50 percent. If you are a good team, you should be at least at 60 to 65. All year, we have just not shot well.”
Still, Saxon and DeJulio razzed each other throughout the second half in a game that was long ago decided.
“I thought we did a nice job defensively,” Saxon said. “In our last three or so games, we’ve really been stressing defense. Prior to that, we were were giving up 50 to 60 points. We did a better job of defending the screen and a lot better job of defending the post.”