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Fast start sends Irish by Liberty

Staff photo / Brian Yauger Ursuline’s Alayna Smith puts a shot up while being mobbed by Liberty defenders. Smith scored 12 points in the Irish’s 65-46 win over Liberty on Saturday.

YOUNGSTOWN — A dominant first quarter was all Ursuline needed to take control of the game Saturday as the Fighting Irish took down Liberty, 65-46, in a Division III girls basketball sectional bracket final.

It was a well-rounded game for Ursuline

“We’re ecstatic,” Irish coach Michael Kernan said. “Not only with the win, but with how we played.

“I think we’ve got a nice group of seniors here who know what’s at hand and what’s next, and they’re really ready to take care of business, and that showed in the first quarter.”

Urusline held a 19-3 lead at the end of the first quarter as shooting woes plagued the Leopards. Those issues continued into the second quarter as the Irish had a 29-12 lead at the break.

Over the 10-minute intermission, Liberty got a push that kickstarted the team. A blocked shot by Mya Griffen sparked the Leopards in what would be a 20-point third quarter for the team.

“We were down about 17 points or something like that at halftime and we just talked about, ‘We can get back in and let’s come and let’s fight’,” Leopards coach Deidre Watson said. “They did exactly that. Sometimes you don’t have enough, but I was very proud of the effort that they put in.”

The closest Liberty was able to get was within eight points as Urusline kept pulling away.

A big part of that was from the scoring touch of Anisah Moorman who had a game-high 24 points, 16 of which came in the second half, and the Ursuline defense that performed well.

Staff photo / Brian Yauger Liberty sophomore Cianna Smith eyes the net as she prepares to lay the ball up as Alayna Smith of Ursuline leaps in to try and block it.

“We were playing excellent defense,” Kernan said. “We knew they were going to have a couple spurts, they have a good offensive ballclub. … In general the kids just kind of stepped it up and played to their potential and it showed in today’s results.”

By the middle of the fourth quarter, the Irish had re-established their lead and killed the remaining time on the clock.

Liberty (8-12), which has spent the season with a lineup primarily composed of freshmen and sophomores, is valuing the tournament experience against a good team.

“That first quarter kind of killed us, but we came back and we battled hard,” Watson said. “We got in a lot of foul trouble, we got a lot of injuries, our bench wasn’t as deep.

“I’m proud of my girls. They’re mainly freshmen or sophomores, so next year we’re going to be back and stronger. We’ve been battle-tested now, so they’re gonna know what it takes to win.”

The Leopards graduate one senior, Fatima Elouaddi, and will return their entire starting five next season.

“I think sometimes your losses are more important than your wins because you know how it feels to lose and maybe the things that you didn’t do, you could correct next time,” Watson said. “I think that this loss is going to serve them well for next year.”

The Irish (11-8) advance and will travel to Champion to face the Golden Flashes, who won their opening contest against Columbiana, 49-48.

“Champion has a good quality feeder system right now with nice athletes continuing to fill in,” Kernan said. “They’re starting to win consistently and win at a high level. We know we’re going to get a good matchup in the district semi. We’ll have to prepare and come to play a great game,

Urusline and Champion hit the court Wednesday at 7 p.m.

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