No. 4-ranked Liberty girls overwhelm Forest Grove in regular season finale, 69-26
To steal a line from a late 80's NBA promotion — they're fantastic!
The — now — Pacific Conference champion Liberty Falcon girls are too good. At least they were for Forest Grove in a 69-26 win Thursday night, Feb. 27, in front of a great Senior Night crowd at Liberty High School.
The Falcons (21-3, 12-0) got 18 points from junior Taylin Smith, 10 apiece from Livia Knapp and Alexa Smith, and an inspired 9 point, 11 rebound effort from 5-foot-11 guard Bella Hamel, ending their regular season finale in style as they head for next week's state playoffs.
And are they ready for the postseason?
"I definitely believe they are," Liberty head coach Melanie Wagoner said. "They've put the work in to peak at the right time of the season. Every game in league was really important because getting the league championship was something that they valued, but it's also one step to a bigger picture and they want to be ready for the first round of the playoffs."
Taylin Smith echoed her coach's excitement regarding the Pacific Conference title, but added that while they as a team have little doubt in themselves, it's what little others think of their chances that drives this team.
"A lot of teams think that we're an easier team to beat, so that's a chip we have on our shoulder," Smith said. "That motivates us through practice and makes us give 100 percent. We've worked that way this whole season, and I think that has us ready for the playoffs.
After a quick 3-pointer by Alexa Smith to start the game, Forest Grove (18-6, 8-4) took a 4-3 lead after back-to-back buckets by Ashlynn Dawson and Amanda Rebsom. But that's where the Vikings momentum would end, as Clara Robbins gave the Falcons back the lead following consecutive scores, and when Taylin Smith, Knapp and Hamel followed suit, it was 14-4 and the rout was on.
Liberty got points from seven different players en route to a 26-point second quarter, and took a 40-9 advantage to the half. From there, the Falcons used their combination of offensive potency and defensive flexibility to further stymie Forest Grove, and ultimately left the Viks to pick up the pieces before their first round playoff game Tuesday, March 3.
"That's a team that can contend for a state title," Forest Grove head coach Dan Lumpkin said. "They've been able to get the best of us both times, but now we need to wash it away and get ready for the most important game of our season, which is Tuesday, and I think they can."
The coach went on to say he's proud of what his team has accomplished thus far this year, and reiterated that they're far from done.
"I mean, we're sitting here at 18-6," Lumpkin said. "It hasn't been a bad year. That's really been the only team we've struggled with, so we'll take that for what it is and move on."
While also moving on, Liberty doesn't have to look too far back to find extra motivation for this year's playoffs. After defeating Westview in last year's first round, the Falcons lost a heartbreaker to Jesuit in the second round, leaving what remains a bad taste in the team's mouth.
"We could taste the Chiles Center and we were so close," Taylin Smith said. "It hurt us deep down and motivated us to keep pushing."
And "we" has never meant more than it does for this group of juniors and seniors who've been playing significant minutes together for three years at the varsity level. Taylin Smith said that can't be discounted as it relates to their success, and it's that bond that has them confident and ready going forward.
"This is definitely a special group of girls," she said. "I don't think there's ever been talent come through Liberty like this, so I'm very appreciative to be a part of this group and I'll be sad to see the seniors go."
But it's not over yet, and despite their success to this point, along with their confidence, Wagoner knows they're starting from scratch now.
"Everybody's zero to zero now," she said. "All these games are done and we've got to show up, ready to play on Tuesday."
Liberty scorers included: Taylin Smith 18, Knapp 10, Alexa Smith 10, Hamel 9, Robbins 8, Talia Kahakai-Wyatt 5, Breeze Bartle 2, Alyssa Chronister 2.
Forest Grove scorers included: Kayleen Dominguez 9, Olivia Grosse 6, Rebsom 4, Dawson 4, Emily Lester 3.
Both teams will open the playoffs Tuesday, March 3, with times, locations and opponents yet to be determined.
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