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Leopards find their motivation

Liberty outlasts Garfield’s late push for 54-50 victory

Staff photo / Brian Yauger Liberty’s Cianna Smith dribbles past two Garfield defenders on the way to basket Thursday night at Liberty High School. Smith scored a game-high 20 points as the Leopards held off Garfield late.

LIBERTY — After losing their first game of the season last week against Brookfield, the Liberty Leopards have been playing with a little extra motivation. That loss has stuck with them.

Thursday, the team battled off a late rally by Garfield to take down the G-Men 54-50. Garfield fought back from a 30-18 halftime deficit and kept the Leopards on their toes until the final seconds.

“They have an excellent shooter, a strong post player, they have a dynamic duo,” Liberty coach Deidre Watson said. “This was a critical one for us in order to secure the conference title, at least a share of it, we have a couple more games to go. We talked about just playing strong defense, making sure we guarded (Sarah Seaman) and (Jenna Smith) and played as hard as we could.”

While being locked down by the Leopards defense the entire game, the pair of Seaman and Smith played a huge role in that 32-point second half. Both girls scored 19-points.

Luckily for Liberty however, in the final minute, the defense forced a couple crucial stops that saved the game. Then, the Leopards were able to cap off the game at the free throw line.

“We kind of made some mental mistakes,” Watson said. “I think Sarah Seaman got hot and knocked down a couple 3s. We regrouped, got our defense back together and we ended up with the victory. Tight game, but hats off to them because they played us very hard.”

To say the Brookfield loss has stuck with the Leopards (15-1, 9-1) may be an understatement. A week later, the girls are using that loss as a source of motivation to come out harder and make sure they don’t lose another game.

“The girls talked about Brookfield and the loss and they don’t want to lose again,” Watson said. “We just talked about what things that we need to do better. Coming out more aggressive for one, and not taking wins for granted because kids are going to come out and play us.”

Cianna Smith led the team with a game-high 20 points. Aaliyah Foster tacked on 18.

Things started going well for Garfield in the second half all at once. In the words of coach Aaron Gilbert, “something clicked.”

“I mean, four points like it was last time,” Gilbert said. “That first half, we just couldn’t hit a shot. Missed layups, then they had some open shots and we couldn’t hit open shots. Then in the second half, something just clicked. We got down, I think it ended up going stretched all the way to 18 and then something clicked.

“I don’t know what happened in the first half, we just weren’t ourselves. I don’t know if it was not having school or what, but we just whatever it was, we were out of routine.”

In the second half however, the G-Men found themselves. Gilbert made sure to remind them to not hang their heads, because Liberty would smell blood in the water.

“I just told them you’ve got to fight,” he said. “I basically said that if you don’t step up, they’re going to put 80 on us and we did. I think we limited touches in the second half better, and we let some leak outs happen, but when you’re down, you’ve got to take some chances. All you can ask for is a chance and we had a chance at the end and that’s all we were hoping for.”

Garfield (10-6, 7-3) looks to recover on Saturday with a noon contest against Champion.

The Leopards host Newton Falls tonight at 5:30 in a doubleheader with the boys.

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