A non-region game with the chance for local bragging rights played out Tuesday when Liberty County High School hosted Long County.
The girls’ and boys’ basketball teams were evenly matched, and the point spread was narrow for most of the games, but the Liberty squads managed to pull ahead and take the series. The Panther boys won, 56-38, and the Lady Panthers claimed a 43-33 victory.
In the girls’ game, the Lady Tide had a 12-8 lead in the first and held on to a one-point advantage at half time. In the third quarter, Long County managed to handle the Lady Panthers’ press and led by five at the close of the quarter.
The turnaround came in the final quarter, when the Lady Panthers picked up the pace offensively and pressed the Lady Blue Tide effectively to cause turnovers. With the faster tempo and free-throws the Lady Panthers outscored the Lady Tide 21-6 in the final quarter, which sealed the win.
The Panthers also drew fouls and were 13-of-19 from the line in the fourth quarter.
Once again, freshman Latia Fleming provided big numbers from the inside with 17 points Bryonna Graham scored seven of her nine points in the final quarter, and Brianna Reece added 15 points for the win.
Much like the Lady Panthers, the Lady Blue Tide are a young team, but senior Mikayla Lovett led with 14 points. Freshman Caitlin Wingate, playing mostly under the basket, dropped in 13 points.
Lady Tide coach Kala Hires said her girls continue to work hard and are playing competitively. The toughest challenge they’ve faced is finishing games when an opponent turns up the heat.
“We haven’t really had anyone step up at the end and take control of the game,” Hires said, adding that some of her players are adjusting to playing at the varsity level and are developing confidence. “Liberty is well-coached, and they kept coming at us, and I think my girls lost their composure a little bit. We are still struggling with the whole concept of believing that we can be successful, and it shows late in the games.”
The boys’ game is what folks expected to see from players who know each other’s style of play. The tempo was quick, but the defense was well-played on both sides. The score was tied at 12 at the end of the first period, and Long County had a 23-21 lead at halftime.
In the third quarter, Liberty pulled away, outscoring the Blue Tide, 20-10. The Panthers’ also won the free-throw percentage game by hitting nine of 15 shots to the Blue Tide’s 14 of 30.
Senior Panther Michael Farrior hit two 3-pointers and, along with Jishaun Harris, scored 17 points to push the Panthers ahead.
“In the second half, we made only two turnovers and started to hit those easy shots we had missed in the first half,” Panther coach Willie Graham said. “We missed about seven easy points right under the basket in the first half.”
Long County’s James Francis led the Blue Tide with 12. Deonte Ellis scored nine including a trey shot, and Josh Berry also hit a 3-pointer en-route to six points.
The Liberty boys are 6-9 overall and 0-1 in Region 3A-AAAA, but hope to change that tonight as they travel to play South Effingham.
“They are 9-6 overall, and they are a good team with a few players that are 6-foot-6 and could create problems for us,” Graham said about tonight’s region matchup. “We have to play as close to error-free basketball as we can.”
Long 12 11 10 5 — 38
LC 12 9 20 15 — 56
Long: James Frances 12
LC: Jishaun Harris 17, Michael Farrior 17, Josh Powers 9, Freddie McSwain 8
Long 12 7 8 6 — 33
LC 8 10 4 21 — 43
Long: Mikayla Lovett 14, Caitlin Wingate 13
LC: Latia Fleming 17, Brianna Reece 15, Bryonna Graham 9