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Liberty holds off Falls in MVAC tilt

LIBERTY — It was a classic Mahoning Valley Athletic Conference Gray Tier battle when Newton Falls visited Liberty on Friday.

A game of scoring runs from both sides saw the Leopards come out on top 51-46.

“It was another tough ballgame in the MVAC Gray Tier,” Liberty coach Levon Lamb said. “Newton Falls, LaBrae, us, it’s always a good dog fight. I’m thankful, and fortunate, we came out with the win. The kids kept their composure. I credit their mental capacity to be able to pull it out.”

Liberty began the contest with a 6-0 lead. Kalen Turner hit a bank-shot, and the Leopards took a 14-5 advantage to the second quarter.

Nick Rapczak scored inside the paint for the Tigers, but Liberty quickly stretched the lead to 20-9. Then, Newton Falls turned it around and went on a 15-3 run to close out the first half to take a 24-23 lead into the locker room.

Mac Haidet (game-high 15 points) made a crisp pass to Carmello Moore down low. Haidet took it to the hoop, and nailed one from behind the arc, as Newton Falls found themselves in front.

“These kids have come around, talent wise, to exceed my expectations,” Newton Falls coach Roy Sembach said. “I feel we can play with anybody. Now, it’s a matter of being tough enough to finish the job. We played wonderful basketball in the second quarter.

“We played well at the beginning of the third, and then we lapsed. We allowed penetration. We allowed rebounds, and we had some turnovers. If we can get over the hump, I don’t know if you’re going to want to play us. We’re going to battle you. We have talent.”

Jordan Dowling made a 3-pointer, from the corner, and the Tigers built an 8-point cushion. However, Liberty senior D’Andre Venters (team-high 14 points) had a steal, a lay-up, and a teardrop floater in the lane as the Leopards went back ahead.

“It was a hard game,” Venters said. “We fought through it. We started off a little slow this season, but we turned it around. This is four wins in a row. I love my coach and my teammates. Especially in these hard fought games. Last year, we would have lost a game like this for sure. Now, to be able to win, it’s a good feeling.”

Liberty went ahead 34-33 and held the ball for the final 1:30 of the third to take that score to the fourth quarter.

Alex Pennington (12 points) took the ball to the hole to get the fourth started for Newton Falls. Venters drilled one from downtown, and Jaden Townsend completed an and-one as Liberty gained control.

Relentless defensive pressure, from Liberty, was the decisive factor. The Leopards applied a full court press for the majority of the contest.

“We’ve hung our hat on our defense all season,” Lamb said. “We challenged our kids, at the beginning of the year, to play shutdown defense. We knew we could create turnovers that would create a lot of offensive opportunities for us. They bought in. We want to make it as tough, and hard, and difficult as we can for the other team to score.”

sports@vindy.com

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