MANSFIELD — About midway through the third quarter of Friday’s game, it looked like a lead Liberty Christian worked so hard to build was on the verge of evaporating, endangering the Lady Warriors’ chances of moving on to the TAPPS Class 5A state championship game.
A few offensive putbacks from Houston St. Agnes’ Lexi Onigbanjo quickly cut a 13-point halftime deficit to just eight points before Liberty responded like it has so many times this season, and the Lady Warriors rolled to a 68-52 win.
“That’s what we’ve done a good job of during the district season,” seventh-year Liberty coach Ken Burroughs said. “Someone would make a run, we stop the run and then go another run.”
Burroughs chalked the Lady Tigers’ brief comeback effort up to a mental error on the part of his team, but it was quickly fixed.
“We got confused on what we were doing defensively and didn’t box out,” he said. “I knew they rebounded well, and it was just one of those things where we had a momentary lapse of what we were doing. The good thing is we can turn it around, run the floor and make up for the mistakes.”
The Lady Warriors (25-14), No. 10 in the Texas Association of Basketball Coaches’ large private schools poll, went on two 10-0 runs — one in the second quarter and one in the third — which was the difference in the game against No. 3 St. Agnes (31-9).
“We were just kind of not pumped yet [before the second-quarter run] and then we made a run and it kept adding up,” freshman guard Hannah Hand said. “We had so much momentum and we started to feel it. It was fun out there.”
For Hand, it was a lot of fun. The freshman, whose twin sister, Rebekah, is the Lady Warriors’ leading scorer on the season, is finally starting to hit her stride after a broken foot forced her to miss more than two months of practice and games before she made her return Jan. 8.
During that second quarter that pushed the Lady Warriors’ lead from four points to 14, Hannah Hand scored nine of her 12 points.
“It was hard at first just trying to get my movement back in my foot, but I’m pretty sure I’m all the way back now,” she said.
The Lady Warriors are back in the 5A final for the seventh time in eight years — after being eliminated in the first round last season — after Rebekah Hand scored a game-high 17 points to lead five Lady Warriors in double figures. Post player RayVon Christian scored 14 while point guard Sydney Goodson added 11 and post Kendall Ellig chipped in 10.
The Lady Warriors move on to face Plano John Paul II in the state championship game at 4 p.m. today at Mansfield Legacy. John Paul II beat Plano Prestonwood 42-35 in Friday’s earlier semifinal and defeated Liberty twice during TAPPS 1-5A play, by five and four points, respectively.
That second loss is still a thorn in Liberty’s side after it blew a big lead midway through the third quarter.
Burroughs didn’t even wait until the question was finished being asked in regard to what had to be different in today’s championship game to see his team come out on top against John Paul II in their third meeting this season.
“Finish it,” Burroughs interjected. “We didn’t finish the last time we were there. We were up 15 with three minutes gone in the third quarter and lost by four. We have to finish the deal.”
If they do, Hannah Hand knows a special high school career could be in store for her, her twin sister, Goodson and Ellig — all freshman starters.
“It is hard to wrap my mind around,” Hannah Hand said of the four freshman starters being one win away from a state title. “But it’s awesome that we still have three more years left. We’re playing for our seniors this year.”
ADAM BOEDEKER can be reached at 940-566-6872. His e-mail address is email@example.com.
Liberty 68, Houston St. Agnes 52
St. Agnes 11 13 10 18 — 52
Liberty Christian 15 22 15 16 — 68
St. Agnes (31-9) — Corinne Kelly 3, Shea Silvernail 2, Ava Ring 3, Marissa English 10, Danielle Wilson 6, Crystal Ike 6, Michelle Nwokedi 12, Lexi Onigbanjo 10.
Liberty Christian (25-14) — Rebekah Hand 17, Syndey Goodson 11, Hannah Hand 12, RayVon Christian 14, Maggie Quam 2, Kendall Ellig 10, Alexis Abbott 2.