Liberty County’s basketball teams earned wins Saturday in their final games of the regular season.
The Lady Panthers escaped Wayne County, 58-57, while the Panthers topped the Yellow Jackets, 71-58, all at LCHS.
The Lady Panthers’ arch-nemesis this season has been an anemic free-throw percentage. When Liberty lost to Wayne, 64-60, on Jan. 23, the Panthers hit double digits in misses at the charity stripe.
On Saturday, however, Liberty freshman Tiara Ramsey hit the most important free throw of her career, nailing one with the game tied, 57-57, in the final seconds.
One last Liberty foul put Wayne at the line with 0.8 seconds left. After a delay due to a clock malfunction, the Lady Jackets missed, and the Lady Panthers clinched the win.
Wayne took an early lead and continued to hit shots, controlling the high post and forcing Liberty to change from a zone defense to man-to-man. That forced Wayne into foul trouble and created momentum for Liberty to get back in the game.
The Lady Panthers searched for consistent offense from dribble and driving to the basket but where they did the most damage was underneath. Tia Fleming had 25 points for the Lady Panthers in the low post. Jaelynn James, Liberty’s lone senior, finished with 14 points and Ramsey had 12 points.
Winning that last home game was more than just winning the final home game of the 2014-15 season, Liberty now has a little breath of life heading into the region tournament.
“Winning tonight was really big for us because now we get to play New Hampstead in Jesup on Tuesday instead of having to go to Thomson,” Liberty County coach Carolyn Kelly said.
According to Kelly, it’s a good draw for the Lady Panthers. Liberty beat New Hampstead twice this season — 46-33 on Jan. 17 at home and 61-52 on Feb. 6 in Savannah.
“We are a young team with only one senior and we struggled at times understanding the game the way you have to play at this level,” Kelly said. “Though, tonight, it wasn’t necessarily pretty, but we battled back and won. Tonight, we grew up some. and hopefully this can help us going into the region playoffs.”
Liberty finished the regular season at 8-12 and 5-5 in Region 3-AAAA for fourth place.
Liberty — 10/11/12/25: 58
Wayne — 14/16/15/11: 57
Liberty scoring — Tia Fleming 25, Jalen James 14, Tiara Ramsey 12, Navia Telfair 6, Jasmine Brooks 1.
It probably wasn’t much like the “Friday Night Lights” scene when Odessa Permian football coach Gary Gaines got his Panthers into the state playoffs with a worn quarter, but Liberty County boys’ basketball coach Willie Graham flipped a coin Monday to determine the No. 1 seed for the region tourney.
Saturday’s win against Wayne kept the Panthers tied with Burke County. Burke defeated Thomson on Saturday, ensuring the coin flip Monday.
Graham and the Panthers won the coin flip, so Liberty will not play until Thursday when they face Windsor Forest. It always was Graham’s goal that his teams start to play their best basketball in the final games of the regular season, which breeds momentum going into the postseason.
The Panthers certainly looked like they were firing on all cylinders Saturday. They swarmed Wayne defensively and established a strong transition game. Davion Mitchell led LCHS with 16 point.
Panther sophomore Richard LeCounte finished with 15 points, including a slam dunk midway through the first quarter.
Tyriq Reece added eight points and lone senior Milik Wallace had six points.
If the Panthers weren’t scoring on a fast break, they seemingly were hitting every field goal they put up. Leading, 17-3, of the first quarter, Graham went bench to give everyone quality minutes.
Liberty finished the regular season at 19-4 and 9-1 in the region, its only region loss coming to Burke County.
“Burke County is a good basketball team. We were up on them when we played them at their place about 8-9 points, and rather than keeping the momentum, we started to hold the ball and didn’t execute which got us beat,” Graham said. “Right now, we know we play Windsor Forest on Thursday so we are concerned with them right now.”
Wayne — 4/9/15/30: 58
Liberty scoring — Davion Mitchell 16, Richard LeCounte 15, Tyriq Reece 8, Milik Wallace 6, Jishaun Harris 4, Tracy White 4, Tyler Thomas 4, Comer Kite 3, Ja’alon Frazier 3, Leviticus Brown 2