Liberty loses first game in state quarterfinals

Liberty defenders try to surround Blue Springs freshman guard Jada Williams during a Class 5 girls basketball state quarterfinal game on Saturday, March 14, at Blue Springs South.

The Liberty girls basketball team did not want its season to end without a fight.

That nearly happened as the Blue Jays were slated to face Blue Springs in the state quarterfinals just as the sports world was coming to a halt due to concerns about the COVID-19 pandemic.

Lucky for the Blue Jays, Missouri was the only state left in the U.S. that had not either canceled or completed its high school basketball state tournaments.

Unlucky for the Blue Jays, the Wildcats point guard Jada Williams was ready to give them one hellacious fight.

The freshman scored a game-high 22 points to lead Blue Springs to a 51-41 victory over previously undefeated Liberty on Saturday, March 14, at Blue Springs South.

“Saturday’s game was nowhere near our best basketball, which is unfortunate this time of year, and it’s what gets you beat,” Liberty senior forward Jillian Fleming said.

The Wildcats sprinted out to an 11-0 lead as Williams scored 6 points in the first few minutes by draining two contested step-back 3-pointers.

“She’s a great player and made great plays at the beginning,” Liberty senior point guard Olivia Nelson said. “We tried to force her left but she continued to get to her right. ... Hats off to her, she made great plays.”

Liberty forward Katie Milhelic scored her only basket on a deep 2-pointer to get the Blue Jays on the scoreboard late in the first quarter. Nelson followed up with multiple trips to the free-throw line as she started building toward a team-high 12 points.

Liberty was still unable to gain ground in the first half as Blue Springs went into the locker room with a 25-14 lead.

The Wildcats nearly put the game away with a 6-2 run late in the third quarter, but the Blue Jays refused to quit. Nelson and senior guard Allie Taylor hit 3-pointers on back-to-back possessions to enter the fourth trailing 35-24.

Liberty opened the final quarter with a 9-2 run, which included 4 of Fleming’s 7 points and a Nelson 3-pointer.

“We talked about how we didn’t want this to be our last game,” Fleming said. “We were going to fight no matter what. Some girls stepped up and we had some big plays.”

The close score wouldn’t last long as the Wildcats were able to re-extend their lead by turning a few Blue Jays’ turnovers into quick scores.

The Blue Jays trailed 44-33 with just three minutes remaining before senior guard Mary Mason got her team going with a corner 3-pointer and freshman Alex Darling converted two foul shots.

“If it was going to be our last game, we didn’t want it to end in that way, giving up and throwing in the towel early,” Mason said. “We want to say we gave ourselves a chance.”

Liberty had the ball while trailing 46-38, but Mason needed to secure three offensive rebounds before she was able score with a layup after precious seconds drained off the clock.

The Blue Jays continued to pressure the Wildcats, but Blue Springs closed out the game with a double-digit victory by converting at the free-throw line.

Mason finished with 10 points, eight rebounds and two assists. Fleming added five boards and an assist. Nelson contributed three assists and two steals.

The Blue Jays won their conference and district championships on the way to a final record of 27-1. This senior class, which also includes Alyssa Griffith, Kelsee Mortimer and Madigan May, finished 86-28 during their high school careers as Liberty won four tournaments this season on its way to the state playoffs.

MSHSAA canceled the Class 5 semifinal and championship games on Monday, March 16.

“I wish we would have won so we can say that we finished undefeated even if we didn’t get to play out the rest of the state tournament,” senior forward Jillian Fleming said. “But I’m just glad that we got the opportunity to play.”

Sports Writer Mac Moore can be reached at 389-6643 or mac.moore@mycouriertribune.com.

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