There's hot, and then there was Liberty hot.
Playing in the biggest game of their season, the Falcons showed little hesitation firing from distance, making 14 of their 26 shot attempts from behind the 3-point arc en route to a 62-44 state quarterfinal win over Mountainside Wednesday afternoon, March 11, at the Chiles Center on the campus of the University of Portland.
"Often times people say shooting percentages go down here, and it is a tough place to score the ball sometimes from the perimeter," Liberty head coach Melanie Wagoner said, "but when the first one goes in, then the second one, it lets everyone relax a little bit, and you saw the result."
Led by point guard Taylin Smith, who scored eight of the Falcons' first 11 points and finished with 21 points on 5-of-8 shooting from behind the arc, Liberty turned a relatively close game into a blowout just minutes into the third quarter.
Behind the long-range shooting of Smith, Bela Hamel, and Alexa Smith, the Falcons were relentless early and throughout the game, answering every Mountainside attempt to close what would be an insurmountable gap, with a series of lethal makes from distance.
"They came ready to shoot that ball and they killed it with that three-pointer," Mountainside sophomore shooting guard Carly Stone said. "That's what really got us. Liberty played amazing. We were doing the best we could to keep up with them. Their threes were just dropping like layups. Playoff games get crazy and it happened to fall in their favor tonight."
Liberty led 16-14 after a quarter, and thanks primarily to Taylin Smith — who was 4-for-6 from the field — led 35-25 at the half. It got worse for Mountainside from there, as Hamel hit back-to-back threes to start the third quarter, and when Smith notched her fifth three moments later, the Falcons led 44-25 and any hope of a Mavericks comeback appeared to be nothing more than a pipe dream — and Mountainside knew it.
"It totally sucks, you can't really do anything about it," Stone said. "(Taylin) Smith was shooting from behind the third (three-point) line. She's an amazing player and there's not much you can do about it. All of their players were hitting, it wasn't just her. That was hard because we'd stick on (Smith) and somebody else would hit that three for her."
In addition to their offense, the Falcons worked wonders on 2-time state player of the year Cameron Brink, who made just 4-of-9 shots from the field and scored just nine points in 29 minutes of action.
Wagoner knew playing the Metro League foe, and especially Brink would be challenging, but also never wavered in her confidence in her team.
"These girls just work really hard," the coach said. "I feel like when you put in the work it gives you the right to have confidence and believe in yourselves, and that's what these kids did."
"I mean, the Metro League is tough and Cameron Brink is tough, but a lot of people picked against us in this game, and that's the chip on the shoulder that the girls have."
Taylin Smith echoed her coach's sentiments regarding that chip, and said without a doubt it motivates them every time they go on the court.
"Something like 13 out of 15 people picked against us in the article I saw," Smith said, "so that definitely gave us a fire to prove them wrong. We have no reason to doubt ourselves."
In addition to Smith, Hamel finished with 16 points and five rebounds, and post Alexa Smith tallied 12 points on 4-of-6 shooting from behind the arc. Alexa was obviously pleased with her performance, but added it can be anyone on given night to score the ball, which is what makes the Falcons so difficult to guard.
"It's super valuable," Alexa Smith said. "All of us have a lot of trust in each other and I think that's really big when it comes to being a really great team. We always believe in one more pass and we have a drill that we do for that and it reminds us that we should always be able to trust ourselves to make one more pass, and someone will make it."
Now, with a semifinal matchup with top-ranked Beaverton scheduled for Friday, what did Taylin Smith say was the team's mindset?
"Just to make sure that we're not satisfied and keep pushing on."
Liberty's game against Beaverton is scheduled for 1:30 p.m. on Friday, March 13, at the Chiles Center.
Falcons scorers included: Taylin Smith 21, Hamel 16, Alexa Smith 12, Breeze Bartle 4, Alyssa Chronister 3, Talia Kahakai-Wyatt 2, Livia Knapp 2, Clara Robbins 2.
Mountainside scorers included: Halle Hageman 12, Cameron Brink 9, Lindsey Wilson 9, Carly Stone 6, Ana Ika 4, Ava Shandy 3, Shaylee Gonzalez 1.
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