Freshman Teegan Pifher scored 13 of her 15 points in the second half to lead Olentangy Liberty to a 56-52 victory over Dublin Scioto in the first round of the Division I girls basketball district tournament Saturday night in Powell.
The Patriots (16-7), seeded 10th in the district tournament, had to overcome a slow start and sloppy play at the end of the third quarter to hold off the 29th-seeded Irish (8-14).
“It’s survive and advance,” Liberty coach Sam Krafty said. “It doesn’t matter if you win by four or 40, just right now, it matters if you win.
“If you take away some of our close wins and they get a few of their close losses … both teams are pretty even.”
Pifher had a team-high six rebounds, Emma Humaney had 10 points and four steals and Katie Harrop added nine points and a game-high five assists to lead Liberty to its seventh victory of the season decided by four points or less.
“I feel like we dug deep and wanted it more,” Pifher said. “We just stuck together … we’ve been practicing really hard at being strong with the ball and that’s what it came down to at the end — just fighting for every possession and not taking a play off.”
The Irish held a decisive 39-27 advantage on the boards, including 25 offensive rebounds that kept them close.
“I knew they’d be a very good rebounding team … they’re tough and (coach) Jen (Music) does a good job. I had a lot of respect for her when she was here coaching,” Krafty said.
Music led the Liberty program from 2006 through 2010.
Liberty got key three-point baskets from freshmen Gina Santangelo and Kelly Levering.
Santangelo knocked down a pair of threes in the first half to help Liberty overcome a 7-0 Scioto start.
“It took us a little longer to get going than I would have liked, but we had some kids make some big shots,” Krafty said. “Gina Santangelo comes in and hits a (couple) of big threes. She shot really well in practice.”
Her first came from the left corner to tie the game 14-14 with 11 seconds left in the opening period. Her second, which came from the top of the key, gave Liberty the lead for good at the 3:15 mark of the second quarter. The Patriots led 28-23 at the break.
Levering knocked down a much-needed three on Liberty’s first possession of the fourth quarter.
“Kelly Levering hit a big three down the stretch,” Krafty said. “She’s a great kid with a bright future.”
It came after Scioto rallied for nine of the last 11 points in the third quarter. The Patriots turned it over three times in their final four possessions after taking an eight-point lead.
Liberty pushed the lead back to eight on baskets by Kennedy Kashmiry and Pifher and two Harrop free throws in the fourth quarter.
Hutras knocked down a three to cap a 7-1 rally and Scioto trailed 50-48 with just over a minute left, but Liberty knocked down six of eight free throws in the final minute to seal it.
Hutras led the Irish with 19 points, seven rebounds and three steals. Kennedy had 12 points, six rebounds and four steals and Kennedie Lomax added 11 points and six rebounds.
McKenzie Lomax, who became Scioto’s all-time leader in rebounds this season, led with 11 to go with eight points.
Liberty advances to the second round where it hosts OCC-Buckeye foe and 17th-seeded Westerville South Tuesday night at 7 p.m. The teams split in the regular season.
“Now, we have Westerville South, and they’re going to get our best shot,” Krafty said. “We’re looking forward to that on Tuesday.”
Follow Michael Rich on Twitter @mrichdelgazette.