POWELL – The Olentangy Liberty girls basketball team had everything going for it in Friday night’s 72-36 win over Delaware Hayes in the second round of the Division I district tournament.
The 10th-seeded Patriots overcame a slow start on offense with rebounding and defense before finding their form to cruise to the convincing win.
Teegan Pifher turned in her second solid tournament performance with a game-high 19 points to lead the Patriots (17-7).
Liberty’s ball-hawking defense made Hayes’ night difficult by denying the inside – where Pifher got most of her four steals – and keeping close to the Pacers’ shooters on the arc. The Patriots had 14 steals.
“They have a lot of good, young players,” Liberty coach Sam Krafty said. “We wanted them to earn every shot that (they) got. I thought as a team they shot the 3 pretty well (this season). They’re more of a shooting team than a driving team, so we wanted to move them off the line.”
Hayes got the first basket of the game after Piper Adkins rebounded a Liberty miss and found Jordan Lantz underneath on the other end with 6:39 left in the opening quarter.
Then, the Patriot defense took over and held Hayes without a field goal for close to eight minutes.
Liberty took the lead on a Pifher 3-pointer from the corner and Kelly Levering added a second long ball with 3:50 left in the opening frame.
Krafty called a timeout with 2:36 left with the Patriots leading 6-3.
“In the first few minutes – I don’t even know how many shots we missed, but we just needed to keep firing,” Pifher said. “We’ve been practicing all week to just keep shooting when we miss.”
“I felt pretty good because we were controlling the boards and getting the looks that we wanted,” Krafty said. “I thought we set the tone from a physical standpoint. (It was) a very good defensive effort.”
That’s when the Patriots poured it on – starting with a Gina Santangelo triple. Abby Erickson followed with three baskets and Pifher two as the Patriots pushed the lead to 19-7 at the end of one.
“Our energy starts on the bench for sure,” Pifher said. “It’s always good to have everybody involved in the game no matter what the score is. They definitely deserve it because everybody’s been working hard in practice.”
Liberty opened the second quarter with a 12-2 run and the Patriots were off from there.
Erickson and Caitlin Splain came off the bench to score 10 points apiece. Splain knocked down a pair of 3s in the second quarter alone. Liberty knocked down 10 3-pointers as a team.
Santangelo finished with nine points – all on long balls — and Kelly Levering added eight points and five assists. Erickson tied Pifher for the team lead with six rebounds and Trinity Ramos tied Levering with five assists.
“I thought Trinity Ramos … did a great job of controlling the tempo of that game – especially early on with some of the lineups they had out there,” Krafty said. “We wanted to run them a bit more and she did a great job of finding our big kids in position – whether it was Teegan or Abby. Kelly is really good with bringing the ball up in transition (too).”
The 29th-seeded Pacers (11-12) made great strides to finish at .500 in the regular season. Hayes coach Lou Tiberi believes playing an opponent like Liberty will show his players how much work goes into being successful.
“We talked about making the commitment to being physically stronger, getting faster and playing with more intensity,” he said. “Until they learn that it’s a different level and a different gear – you’re going to have nights like this.”
The Patriots denied the passing lanes on defense, beat Hayes down the floor off their defense and were quick on the offensive glass – all things that Tiberi tried to simulate in practice leading up to the game.
“We worked on it all week – playing against as much pressure as we could work against each other,” Tiberi said. “It’s tough to simulate what they do when you’re not used to playing that way. Scioto plays similar to this, Darby plays similar to this – but Liberty is a whole other class. Our goal is to be a Liberty – hopefully in the near future.”
With a lineup that featured five sophomores and a freshman, Hayes has a bright future.
“The girls are learning, but I don’t think they really understand how hard these upper-echelon teams play and how relentless they are,” Tiberi said. “They give up a basket and they make a basket – that’s their mentality.”
Freshman Chloe Jeffers had 10 points, junior Katie Smith added seven and Lantz had seven rebounds to lead the Pacers.
“We’re going to be a veteran team next year,” Tiberi said. “A lot of these girls will be playing their third year of (varsity) basketball and have 40 games under their belts. So, there’s no excuses next year.”
With the win, Liberty faces ninth-seeded Hilliard Davidson in a district semifinal Wednesday night at 7 p.m. at a site to be announced.
Big Walnut 59, Columbus International 12
The third-seeded Golden Eagles used a 23-0 second quarter to break things open on the way to a lopsided win over the 24th-seeded Lions in the second round of the Division II district tournament Friday night in Sunbury.
Emily Neff and Andie Stewart led the way with 10 points apiece for Big Walnut, which won the first quarter 16-8, the third 12-4 and the fourth 8-0 to smooth out the scoring summary. Alyssa Tarney was also solid in the win, finishing with eight points.
Next up, BW will host 14th-seeded Bloom-Carroll in Tuesday’s district semifinal. Tip is slated for 7 p.m.
Pleasant 64, Buckeye Valley 43