LIBERTY — Liberty North pulled off an historic win for the team on Wednesday, Feb. 10 at Liberty North High School, beating crosstown rival Liberty for the first time in program history.
The Eagles played shutdown defense for the final three quarters as they beat the Blue Jays 46-30 to win the Crosstown Showdown for the first time in 11 tries.
“It was a really special win for us,” senior forward Rachel Spainhour said. “My class hasn’t beat Liberty since our eighth grade year.”
Spainhour delivered her first double-double of the season as she led the team with 16 points and pulled down 10 of the team’s 21 rebounds.
Senior guard Emma Perry scored 12 points by attacking the paint, where she shot 3 of 5 while also getting to the line to shoot 3 of 4 on free throws.
“They are a really hard working team and I think we matched up pretty well with them,” Perry said. “I think our group of seniors were just really ready to win this one. We wanted it really bad.”
Liberty North placed added importance on this game after Liberty won their last face-off in the district finals last year, ending a season where the Eagles set a program record for wins under first-year head coach Brian Rockers.
After that game ended in a wire-to-wire defensive slugfest for the third time last season, Rockers said he felt like his team was “knocking on the door” and that they would “knock the door down eventually.”
The seniors in this game, including guard Julia Wilburn who added 2 points and a rebound, also wanted to win for a senior who could not take the court. Maddie Niemeier marked the end of her season with surgery on Feb. 2 to repair a torn ACL that has kept her out of action since Jan. 12.
Spainhour, who has stepped up to help replace the 10.4-point, 9.8-rebound average of Niemeier, said it was devastating for the entire team to not have her out there.
Niemeier told them she was proud of them for still getting the job done.
“She wanted to see us come out with the dub, no matter what,” Spainhour said.
Liberty definitely noticed the additional energy brought by the Eagles and felt like they were just unable to match it.
“They wanted to win and they wanted it more than we did tonight,” senior guard Aryonna Straws said. “We played like a team that was scared to lose and it really showed, but it was also a great performance by them.”
Liberty head coach Joe Price said it was as simple as not playing as hard as their opponents in a game.
“They made it hard to execute and we did not hit many shots,” Price said. “They were just the tougher team.”
Sophomore guard Kaitlin Davis and senior guard Ava Murphy were the only Blue Jays to convert multiple field goals in the game. Davis led the team with 8 points while Murphy scored 7 points thanks to a 3-of-4 performance from the free-throw line.
Straws, who leads the team in scoring this season, could not get much going with her 2 points on 1-of-3 shooting. She kept fighting in other facets of the game, leading the team with six rebounds and tying with Ella Lawrence for the most assists with three.
Lawrence, sophomore guard Aliyah Lanee Straws and sophomore guard Alex Darling each added a 3-pointer on a combined 3-of-7 from deep, but the rest of the team combined to shoot just 1 of 9. Sophomore guard Oliviya Tinoco also added 3 points.
“This is a tough one but we played really well up until tonight,” Price said of the team’s 8-2 stretch since winter break heading into this contest. “So we’re not going to dwell on it too much and just try to move on.”
That wouldn’t be easy for the Blue Jays as they lost to Park Hill 50-42 in a hard fought battle the next night before facing a blowout 62-39 loss to Blue Springs South on Saturday, Feb. 13. The Eagles also followed up by losing to Lee’s Summit West 55-42 on Friday, Feb. 12.
Liberty (9-11, 3-6 Suburban Gold) will get a chance to even the score as the team will host Liberty North (9-8, 4-4 SG) after both team’s faced weather cancellations heading into their second face-off Thursday, Feb. 18 at Liberty High School.