Olentangy Liberty girls basketball coach Sam Krafty called Pickerington Central “a college basketball team” after the Tigers’ 54-12 victory in a Division I district final Saturday afternoon at Ohio Dominican University’s Alumni Hall.
“(It’s) what they are,” he said. “Their kids have offers that are big time … and college coaches are pretty bright.”
So, the plan was simple.
“We wanted to keep it close, put some pressure on them and make them crack a little,” Krafty said.
The 23rd-seeded Patriots, who have upset higher seeds in each of their three tournament games this season, did that for the most part in the first half.
They held the third-seeded and no. 1-ranked Tigers (24-2) to 16 points in the first half.
But, Liberty couldn’t overcome Pickerington Central’s stout defense, which forced 14 turnovers in the first half and limited the Patriots to just two field goals en route to a 16-6 halftime edge.
“Our goal was under 14 (turnovers) for the game,” Krafty said. “Down 10 at the half – if you’d have told me that yesterday – I don’t have much money, but I would have given you everything I have. We’ll take that … three or four possessions and we’re right in it.”
The Tigers kept Liberty from putting the ball in the hoop for 14:36, from a Kelly Levering basket late in the first quarter to an Emma Humenay three-pointers at the 4:00 mark of the third quarter.
“We thought we could open some stuff up and get by them,” Krafty said. “But we just couldn’t do it today.”
Pickerington Central used a 23-3 third quarter to break the game wide open.
Neither team had a player finish in double figures. Kai Jones had nine points, Adrian Crockwell had eight and Maliya Perry added seven for the Tigers and Levering led the Patriots (14-12) with seven.
Pickerington Central advances to the regional semifinal round and will face Gahanna Lincoln Tuesday night at 6:15 p.m. at Otterbein University’s Rike Center.
As for Liberty – getting to this point in the tournament was a remarkable feat considering two of its top players (Teegan Pifher and Kennedy Kashmiry) were on the bench in heavy knee braces.
“The silver medal today was not a consolation prize … it was not a participation trophy,” Krafty said. “That darn thing was earned. There’s 42 other teams that would like to trade for it.”
Kashmiry was one of six seniors (Humenay, Lauren Spicer, Sydney Englehart, Jess Thomas and Mackenna Bay), who saw their roles increase after Pifher’s injury in the third game of the season.
“I think as a coach – you hope you can have an impact on the kids,” Krafty said fighting back tears. “This group of kids flipped the script. They really had an impact on me. I couldn’t be more proud of them. I’ll never forget them.”
It was the second district title appearance for Liberty as a school – both in the last four years and both with Krafty as coach.
“We’ll be back here,” he said. “It won’t be long.”
Follow Michael Rich on Twitter @mrichnotwealthy or contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.