Liberty County’s boys’ basketball team took a decisive 86-67 win Friday night over Thomson to claim the Region 3-AAAA title in its home gymnasium.
“One down, one more to go,” an exuberant Panther basketball coach Julian Stokes said after the game, referring to the state playoffs that loom ahead.
Before a packed house, the Panthers and Bulldogs raced back and forth. The game was close during most of the first quarter. The Bulldogs held a slight lead, but the Panthers pulled ahead by four to close the first.
The Bulldogs’ coaching staff made sure Panthers Richard LeCounte and Davion Mitchell were covered. But Mitchell still dropped in seven points in the first, and the Bulldogs left Jaalon Frazier and Will Richardson open, so they both dropped in six points each.
In the second half, the Bulldogs still didn’t account for Richardson’s ability, leaving him open on the corner. The sophomore hit a basket and then dropped in three consecutive treys to close the half and open the third quarter of play.
At the half, Liberty led 44-29.
The Bulldogs capitalized on a few third-quarter turnovers, but then they failed to contain LeCounte and Mitchell. The duo got down to business, giving the crowd slam dunks and impressive shots. The fans were on their feet, and when the buzzer sounded, the bench cleared as the fans rushed toward the Panthers and coach to celebrate their victory.
Mitchell finished the night with 35 points, including three 3-pointers. Richardson added 21 points. LeCounte had 14, while Frazier and Jishaun Harris had eight points each.
The Panthers had to clear a major hurdle before getting to the championship game. New Hampstead did all it could to try to pull the upset of the evening in Thursday’s Region 3-AAAA semifinal game. But a fourth-quarter push by Liberty gave it the five-point margin in the 71-66 win, sending the Panthers to the finals.
LeCounte scored 30 points, and Mitchell netted 20.
The Lady Panthers started the region tournament with a buzzer beater to defeat New Hampstead 48-47 Tuesday at Thomson. It looked like the Lady Panthers had the game in the bag, but the Lady Phoenix were looking for an upset. Trailing 37-32 in the third quarter, the Lady Phoenix rallied and tied the game 40-40 with 2:35 remaining. New Hampstead then took a 44-40 lead with only 1:42 left on the clock.
The game took on a furious pace, and Lady Panther Alaynna Flanders sank a shot as the buzzer ended the game.
But on Thursday, the Lady Panthers suffered a difficult defeat to the Wayne County Lady Yellow Jackets. Liberty lost 45-29.
Friday, the Lady Panthers played Thomson in the consolation game and lost 43-40. Wayne County beat Burke County 57-47 to win the region title.
In other region basketball news, Bradwell Institute’s basketball teams were in Camden County on Monday and Tuesday for the first round of the Region 3-AAAAA tournament.
The Lady Tigers lost Monday 53-50 to Ware County. Bradwell finished the season 13-13 overall and 4-9 in region play.
On Tuesday, the Bradwell boys took on Richmond Hill and fell 67-50. The Tigers finished 6-19 overall and 1-12 in the region.