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Liberty makes improvements but still falls short vs. Warriors

Staff photo / Brian Yauger -- Liberty freshman Mia Parker, center, wrestles for possession of the ball with Brookfield’s MiKenzie Jumper. The young Leopards lost a back-and-forth battle with Brookfield, 71-66, on Thursday in Brookfield.

BROOKFIELD — In the second meeting between the two teams in a week, Liberty’s priority was improvement against first-place Brookfield.

While coming out on the wrong end of a 71-66 final score, Leopards coach Deidre Watson saw a stark contrast in her team’s performance from the first meeting.

“In the first game we played them, we came out really sluggish and we just wanted to enforce good teamwork, hustling, getting loose rebounds, so I feel like we did a really good job,” Watson said. “We had some small mistakes in the end, it didn’t go our way, but that was a game that could have gone either way.”

Liberty, who lost 57-42 last time around, wanted to come out of the gate on the right foot and was able to hold Brookfield scoreless for the first 3 minutes of the game, leading 6-0 early.

“It was just good for their confidence,” Watson said. “We have a really young team, mainly comprised of freshmen and sophomores. We lost a lot of senior leadership and so it’s important for them to be able to understand that they can hold the team together.”

Staff photo / Brian Yauger -- Liberty’s Demi Watson, right, drives to the basket while being defended by Sophie Hook of Brookfield. Watson finished with 15 points in the Leopards’ loss to the Warriors.

Brookfield (8-1, 5-1) began to push back in the second quarter with a run that culminated in sophomore Sophia Hook hitting a 3-pointer with 1 second remaining in the first half to send her team into the break trailing 34-30.

Hook finished the night with 30 points.

Freshman Aaliyah Foster cleared the 30-point mark as well, tallying a game-high 32 points for the Leopards.

Two seasons ago, Brookfield and Liberty’s eighth grade teams met up in the All-American Conference Blue Tier title game. Now, those eighth graders are sophomores and are leading young squads.

Brookfield’s Hook and Liberty’s Demi Watson were a part of those respective teams and are now key players on the varsity squads.

Staff photo / Brian Yauger -- Liberty’s Aaliyah Foster, right, collides into Brookfield’s Katie Gibson to draw a foul.

Warriors coach Ken Forsythe anticipates a lot of great matchups between these two teams in the next couple years.

“These guys battled it out when they were in junior high,” he said. “They met in the championship game in eighth grade and it was a good game then. The next couple years, it’s going to come down to them and us and a couple others.”

The Leopards had a senior-heavy roster last season, so getting the younger players acclimated to the mental side of the game as they take more prominent roles is crucial, Deidre Watson said.

“Last year they really relied on the seniors so they didn’t have to take all the pressure,” she said. “This year, the pressure is all on them. I talked to them a lot about the mental aspect of the game and being able to finish, so that’s really what we’re focused on this year.”

Liberty (4-4, 3-3) takes on another tough league foe as they look to pick up a win against Newton Falls on Monday. The Leopards won by 20 in the first meeting, but with the Tigers fully into the swing of things now, Watson expects them to playl much better.

“We played them in their first game back from quarantine, so they were a little bit sluggish,” Watson said. “We expect them to be a lot more aggressive this time and it’ll be a good day.”

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