Liberty County High School swept a doubleheader with Bradwell on Saturday at LCHS.
The Lady Panthers needed overtime to edge the Lady Tigers, 50-48. The Panthers, coming off an 86-80 win Friday night against South Effingham, used a fourth-quarter surge to top the Tigers, 47-36.
Liberty’s Jalen James knocked down the front end of a pair of free throws to put the Lady Panthers up, 50-47, in the final seconds of overtime. Bradwell sophomore guard Journae Young was fouled with one second left, swished the first free throw and slammed the next ball off the backboard to create a chance for her team to have one last shot. However, she was whistled for a line violation.
That gave the Lady Panthers the ball, but in attempt to throw the ball the length of the court, an errant clock allowed Bradwell a final possession. The Lady Tigers missed a final shot to give Liberty the win.
The game was nip and tuck for four quarters, as the teams traded baskets and created offense off turnovers. Bradwell held a 25-23 lead at halftime.
Liberty created some separation in the third quarter. Lady Panthers coach Carolyn Kelly wanted her team to get the ball inside. Once the guards started to feed posts, Tia Fleming and Kymberli Payno combined for 12 points in the third quarter.
“We got away from what we originally intended to do with the inside game, which allowed Bradwell to keep hanging around and force overtime,” Kelly said.
Sporadic perimeter play, along with giving the Lady Tigers several second-shot attempts, sent the game to the wire in the 30 seconds of regulation. Bradwell’s Javaughna Claridy swished two free throws to tie the score, 44-44, in the final seconds.
Payno led the Lady Panthers with 14 points.
The scored marked a near-turnaround from the teams’ last battle. When the teams met Nov. 22 at Bradwell, Liberty won a lopsided 57-28 contest.
Though both teams have struggled at times during the season, Liberty controls its own destiny going into next week’s region tournament. Liberty is 12-10, and 3-2 in Region 3A-AAAA. The Lady Panthers have one region game left — Friday in Jesup against Wayne County, which the Lady Panthers beat, 64-45, Jan. 17 at LCHS.
“We are probably going to finish second in the region, but it will end up depending on the outcome of South Effingham vs. Statesboro to know exactly where we will finish up,” Kelly said.
Bradwell (6-16 overall, 4-7 in Region 3-AAAAA) had three region games left as of Tuesday morning. The Lady Tigers were scheduled to host Effingham on Tuesday night and Groves on Friday night. Due to last week’s inclement-weather threat the final region game of the season will be played against Jenkins on Saturday in Savannah.
Liberty — 10/13/15/6/6: 50
Bradwell — 9/16/8/11/4: 48
Liberty scoring — K. Payno 14, B.Graham 11, B. Reece 10, T. Fleming 8, J. James 3, E. Fisher 3, N. Telfair 1.
Bradwell scoring — B. Johnson 17, J. Claridy 10, A. Richardson 7, S. Maines 7, A. Roberts 4, J. Young 3.
Liberty County head coach Willie Graham knew the Panthers would have size and athleticism, but a lot of questions remained when the season began.
Two questions Graham had regarded the roles of his two freshman guards, Davion Mitchell and Richard LeCounte, who was only weeks off the gridiron the first time Liberty played Bradwell in November.
“Davion and Richard have been a handful. If I had any hair, I would have pulled it out. Both have learned the system and have been an asset to the program. At the same time, the freshman are very aggressive in their style of play, especially Richard, so it becomes high risk vs. high reward, and sometimes you don’t end up on the right side,” Graham said.
Saturday’s game was a well-played athletic contest, featuring strong guard play. Bradwell’s patient offense used quick passing in the first two quarters to keep close. The Panthers held a 21-17 lead at the half.
Defensively, Liberty struggled with the inside game as Bradwell double-teamed Liberty’s post players. However, post Conner Bailey showed added range, knocking down jumpers from the corner.
The Tigers couldn’t stop Liberty’s transition game, which was fueled by rebounds and defensive turnovers.
“The difference tonight is we didn’t have to fight behind tonight, which is big against a team like Bradwell,” Graham said. “(Friday night), we chased South Effingham up and down. Every guard had the green light to shoot the 3. They shot 14 3s against us.”
Liberty’s Freddie McSwain led all scorers with 18 points. Mitchell added nine points. Malcolm Dingle led the Tigers with 15 points.
Liberty finishes the Region 3A-AAAA regular-season schedule Friday in Jesup against Wayne County, a team the Panthers routed, 78-48, on Jan. 17 at home. As of Tuesday morning, the Panthers were tied with Statesboro for the region lead.
“We want to put ourselves in a position that we only have to win one or two games to get us into the state playoffs. Once we get to the state playoffs, everyone is 0-0 and it’s win or go home,” Graham said.
Despite some tough losses and changes in personnel, Bradwell still can control its own destiny going into the region playoffs. Bradwell was scheduled to host Effingham County on Tuesday. The Tigers have key region matchups against Groves on Friday at home and region leader Jenkins on Saturday in Savannah.
Liberty — 6/15/7/19: 47
Bradwell — 2/15/13/6: 36
Liberty scoring — F.McSwain 18, D. Mitchell 9, C. Bailey 8, J. Powers 4, R. LeCounte 4, X. Tunstall 2, J. Harris 2.
Bradwell scoring — M. Dingle 15, R.Stokes 7, J. Hill 4, D. Hawkins 4, J. Reynolds 3, H. Anderson 2, T. Womack 1.