Liberty shares league title with 66-39 win over Forest Grove
It's official, the Liberty Falcons girls basketball team are league champions — kind of.
The Falcons defeated the Forest Grove Vikings 66-39 Thursday, Feb. 21, and in the process clinched a share of the Pacific Conference title with McMinnville, who defeated Liberty 67-40 two days prior. But while pleased with their accomplishment, Falcons' sophomore Taylin Smith was quick to point out their disappointment in not being able to call it their own.
"We wish we weren't sharing the title," the Liberty guard said with a wry smile. "But we're proud of ourselves and next year we want it to ourselves."
Liberty was denied that opportunity as a result of their lopsided Feb. 19 defeat to the Grizzlies, and due to such, prepared for their game with the Vikings with an added level of angst.
"We watched film all day in practice yesterday, and we saw what we needed to improve upon and we did that tonight," Smith said. "I think we came out hard from the tip, and I thought we did well and executed like we wanted to."
Smith — who finished with 14 points — was one of four Falcons that scored in double figures on this night, including fellow sophomore Livia Glynn (14), junior Breeze Bartle (11), and senior Maliah Jobe (12).
The home Falcons started the game with a group of seniors as part of "Senior Night" festivities, and the upperclassmen didn't disappoint, building an early 5-0 lead thanks to two quick baskets by Maliah Jobe. Liberty took a 12-6 lead to the second quarter, then a 26-17 lead to the half thanks primarily to the sharp-shooting of Smith and Glynn who combined for 12 of the Falcons' 14 second quarter points.
Forest Grove responded however, beginning the third quarter with two quick baskets from junior post Olivia Grosse to cut the Liberty lead to six. The Falcons combatted the Viking run with a bruising inside game, getting eight of their 15 third quarter points from posts Bartle, Clara Robbins, and Alexa Smith before an inadvertent elbow forced Forest Grove point guard Ashlynn Dawson from the game, leaving the Vikings vulnerable to the pressure that makes Liberty tick.
"Early on we didn't handle the pressure very well, but as we got into the game we got more comfortable, hit some shots, got to the basket, and as we approached the end of the third quarter it was only a seven point game," said Forest Grove head coach Dan Lumpkin. "We found ways to battle, ways to compete, and then losing Ashlynn hurt. We're not deep, so when you take a girl like her out it forces girls to positions they're not all that comfortable with."
And that didn't bode well for the visiting Viks who finally wilted under the full-court Falcon pressure, turning a relatively close game into a fourth quarter blowout by way of 10 quick points from Smith and Knapp.
"We knew this game would be pretty tough because they were playing for a league title," said Lumpkin. "Now we have to put it behind us and focus on the playoffs."
The Vikings — despite a rough patch to end the year — have locked-up a playoff berth. Lumpkin knows that in spite of their recent woes, it's not what you've done, but rather what you do when the playoffs start, so they'll focus on what lies before them rather than concern themselves with what's left in their recent wake of defeats.
"The girls have felt what it's like to play good at times, but maintaining that consistency has been tough for us," he said. "Then we'll go through stretches of mental mistakes and over the course of the game those mistakes add-up. But now records are irrelevant. It doesn't matter what you've done, we've got one game to go out and play."
Meanwhile, Liberty — with their No. 11-ranking — will host a playoff game this coming Wednesday against a yet-to-be-determined opponent. But regardless of who they play, they're excited about who they've become over the course of the season, and the postseason opportunity they've earned because of it.
"I feel like we've just made the small improvements and that's helped us to beat these better teams and maybe blowout the lesser teams," Smith said. "I'm very excited for the playoffs, to see who we play, and hopefully take it to them."
In addition to Smith, Glynn, Bartle and Jobe, Liberty's Robbins added six points and nine rebounds.
Forest Grove was led by Amanda Rebsom who tallied nine points and six rebounds. Also, Emily Lester added eight points, Kendal Thrush scored eight and grabbed seven rebounds, and Grosse recorded seven points and seven boards.