LIBERTY — Liberty boys basketball outlasted a resilient Truman team to win a second straight district championship.
The Blue Jays stayed step-for-step with the Patriots through three and a half quarters before turning on the jets to take control in a 58-51 win during the Missouri Class 6 District 15 championship game.
Both teams had a hard time getting shots to fall early with each squad leaning on a few hot hands.
Liberty junior guard Bennett Stirtz led the way for the Blue Jays with 25 points in the game while Najee Williams led the Patriots with 24 points.
The difference in the game ended up being the depth for Liberty.
Truman got 14 points from Runey Hernandez and not much else. The Blue Jays had three scorers other than Stirtz who found their rhythm at different points in the game.
Liberty junior guard Luke Stubbs scored 4 of his 8 points during the first quarter to go along with Stirtz’s 6 points as the Jays trailed 13-10 after one quarter.
The Jays evened things up but both defenses tightened up their play as they game was 15-all halfway through the second quarter.
Senior forward Kellen Goodwin started to lock down inside the paint and helped his teammates limit Williams and Hernandez while still shutting down the rest of the Truman squad.
“Defense was the biggest part of that game,” Goodwin said. “We were working as unit to stop, maybe not Najee, but the rest of their guys from getting going.”
Goodwin said he stayed focused on playing helped defense to limit Williams from driving right to the basket.
With Truman slowed down on offense, Stirtz went on another run, getting an and-one and closing out the half with a buzzer-beating layup to take a 25-24 lead into the break.
Senior guard Javion Byers turned up the heat on offense next, knocking down a 3-pointer before hitting a layup a position later.
Byers said the players remained positive and encouraging in the locker room despite many of the players having a tough time getting going on offense. It paid off.
“As soon as Javin (Shaw) kicked it to me and I hit my first 3, I felt good,” Byers said. “I knew I was going to get my rhythm. So I just kept going with the flow and not forcing things.”
Truman kept it close at 35-32 midway through the third quarter before Byers hit another triple to start a run for Liberty.
Shaw scored 10 points thanks to two 3-pointers and two putback layups. Liberty pulled ahead 42-34 in the closing minutes of the third quarter and kept the distance to 49-42 heading into the final four minutes of the game.
Shaw had a similar experience to Byers, just needing to see his first field goal go through the hoop to get started.
“I started out rough, but I stayed positive and had a good mindset,” Shaw said. “Once I saw that first shot fall I was like, ‘I’m back in it.’”
Truman gave one last push as they scored a 5-0 run, but Goodwin helped seal things by hitting two free throws on a one-and-one at the line.
Liberty finished with a 58-51 victory to win the district crown.
Liberty beat Staley 66-53 on Tuesday, March 9 in the state sectionals at Liberty High School.
Liberty (24-4) will face Lee’s Summit 6 p.m. Friday, March 12 at Lee’s Summit High School in the state quarterfinals.