LIBERTY — Liberty girls basketball took the court on Thursday, March 4 at Liberty High School to compete in its seven straight district championship game, although the circumstances were a little different than in years past.
The Blue Jays, who won five of their previous six trips to the finals, made it for the first time as a team with a record below .500.
That didn’t stop them from winning the Missouri Class 6 District 15 championship.
Liberty sophomore guard Ella Lawrence nailed a buzzer beater at the end of regulation to force overtime, senior guard Ava Murphy hit two free throws after getting fouled on a 3-pointer with less than a second to go and the No. 2 seed Blue Jays beat No. 4 seed Truman 46-45 to win another district title.
“Unbelievable,” Liberty head coach Joe Price said about the feeling of winning this type of game. “This team’s been gritty all year and last night it was no different. They just grinded it out all night and made enough plays down the stretch.”
Liberty trailed early as Truman built an 11-7 lead after one quarter, but the Jays nearly evened things up as they headed to the locker room trailing 17-16. The Jays finished the third quarter with a 29-25 lead, but the Patriots pulled back control in the fourth quarter as they led 38-36 going into the final possession of regulation for Liberty.
That’s when Lawrence hit a mid-range jumper at the buzzer to send the game into overtime.
Lawrence said she felt taken back by the moment before running over to celebrate with her teammates and turn their attention to the extra period.
“It was just a really surreal feeling,” Lawrence said. “It felt like (the ball) was up there forever before it finally went in.”
Truman refused to let the momentum shift as they took back control early into extra time. The Patriots held a 2-point lead heading into the final minute.
With Liberty trailing 45-44, Murphy launched the final shot from distance. Truman played aggressive defense with the game on the line and ended up fouling Murphy with just 0.3 seconds left in overtime. She missed the first one, but nailed the next two free throws to give the Blue Jays the 46-45 win.
Murphy also hit a floater before that final sequence to keep the Jays on pace with Truman.
Price said Murphy has started to really find her role on the team after transferring from Richmond High School this year.
“She came from a smaller school where she scored a lot more points,” Price said. “We threw a lot at her, having her play a position she was probably not a natural at. She’s gotten better every week.”
Truman was the ultimate underdog as they became the first team in the new Class 6 to beat a No. 1 seed in the district semifinals when they beat Liberty North on Monday.
Still, Liberty’s No. 2 seed was earned during a challenging rebuilding year for the Blue Jays. The team started the season 1-6 before turning things around on their way to a 13-13 record after beating the Patriots.
Price said he was proud of the way this team stayed focused on getting better, particularly when their roster had limited experience at the varsity level and started the year with a schedule loaded with the top teams in the state of Missouri.
“They fought through that rough start and these girls never hung their heads,” Price said.
Liberty faced Staley 6 p.m. Wednesday, March 10 in the state sectionals at Staley High School. The score was not available at Courier-Tribune press time.
The Jays have won the last three matchups with the Falcons, including a season sweep in Suburban Red conference play last year.