Liberty advances in playoffs with win over Westview, 73-66
Someone had to lose, and luckily for the Liberty girls — it was Westview.
The Falcons and Wildcats played a great opening round state playoff game Thursday night, Feb. 28, at Liberty High School, and despite a herculean effort from Westview's Nicole Flennaugh, it was the Falcons who prevailed on this night, winning 73-66 and setting-up a second round matchup at Jesuit this Saturday, March 2, at 6:00 p.m.
Flennaugh's 26 points were trumped by Liberty's Taylin Smith who scored 24 of her own, in addition to the one-two inside punch of Clara Robbins and Breeze Bartle who combined for 28 points and 16 rebounds. Robbins said afterwards that preparation and an extra layer of focus were primarily responsible for the win.
"From the time school got out, we got our mind on the game," she said. "We were ready to go, watched some film, went over what they ran, and we came out knowing what to expect and what we needed to do to win."
Smith added that the team played exceptionally well together and fed off each other's energy, as well as the energy of the state playoffs.
"I thought we did really well," Smith said. "We fed off each other's energy. You know, one person would make a big play and the other person would just feed off of it, and that just worked."
Robbins took it a step further, citing the crowd as another contributing factor to the team's effort against the Metro League's Wildcats.
"I definitely felt a different level of intensity tonight," said Robbins. "We usually don't have that big of a student section. I was really surprised and it was cool to have a great environment to play in and it definitely helped lead to our success."
The game was close throughout and included 16 lead changes. Smith got things started, scoring Liberty's first five points before Flennaugh hit consecutive threes to put Westview ahead 8-5. Smith continued her tear, tallying five more points in the first quarter and 15 in the first half en route to a 37-35 halftime lead.
Flennaugh came out on a mission to start the third quarter, hitting consecutive midrange jumpers to put Westview back on top. Then when the Wildcats' Shanice Uwase scored four straight, the visiting cats were up 45-41 and appeared on the verge of opening things up. But Liberty hung tough thanks to six Robbins points to trail just 53-51 headed to the fourth quarter.
Smith put the Falcons back on top with a conventional 3-point play to start the fourth, then the two teams traded buckets before Liberty's Talia Kahakai-Wyatt put the Falcons ahead 65-61 with 3:35 remaining. Westview however tied the game a minute later when Abbi Gross scored from point-blank range, only to see the Falcons go back ahead, 67-65, on a Bartle lay-in with 1:30 to go — which would prove to be all Liberty would need.
Uwase sunk one of two free throws to cut the lead to one, but Kahakai-Wyatt got a steal and a lay-in to make it 69-66, then after a Flennaugh miss at the other end, Bartle added two more free throws and the Liberty celebration began.
This was the second time the Falcons had played the Wildcats this season, with Liberty dropping a 57-37 decision when the two teams met back in December. But despite the earlier lopsided defeat, Smith said the team was confident they could do better this time around.
"It was awesome," she said. "The first time we played them we didn't play well at all. We didn't play together, it was bad. But getting it done when it really matters is really special to us."
Now Liberty will face Jesuit, another Metro League team who defeated the Falcons earlier this year. The Crusaders are 20-5 on the year and are fresh off a 57-41 win over Tualatin to advance to the second round, but while respectful of Jesuit and what they've accomplished this season, these Falcons are excited for the opportunity to play one of the state's perennial contenders.
"I'm excited," said Smith. "If we play like we did tonight on Saturday, I feel like we have a really good shot of going to the next round."
And Robbins? She's a bit nervous, but it's the "good kind" and she knows they're capable of putting up a good fight.
"I'm not not excited, but I'm a little nervous," she said. "But I think if we come out hard we can take it to them. I'm proud of our team and am looking forward to Saturday."
In addition to Smith, Liberty was led by Robbins who scored 14 points and grabbed 10 rebounds, Bartle who tallied 14 points and six rebounds, and Kahakai-Wyatt who finished with 13 points.
Besides Flennaugh, Westview was led by Uwase who had 13 points, Afton Keeney who had eight points and four rebounds, and Josie Napoli who hit two threes en route to seven points.