By Michael Rich
The Olentangy Liberty girls basketball team came out strong with an 18-5 first quarter and held off a late charge by Dublin Coffman to stay undefeated and take over sole possession of first place in the OCC-Central with a 64-59 victory Tuesday night in Powell.
“It’s two really good teams,” Liberty coach Sam Krafty said. “We made a few shots early that I think really helped us. But, we’re capable of that — that is one of our strengths. It was a big game — it’s the halfway point in the league, it’s a one-game lead and it sure could come down to exactly 30 days from (Tuesday) over at their place Feb. 5 on their senior night.”
The Patriots got a little bit from everybody in the first quarter. Bre Yashko began the 9-0 start with a three-pointer. Alexa Fisher added a three of her own later in the period and Katie Harrop, Savitha Jayaraman and Lauren Hofer each scored four points in the opening frame.
“I knew everyone on our team was ready,” Yashko said. “When you hit a three, everybody on the bench is cheering and it gets you hyped up, so you want to play even harder. So, you’re diving on the floor. I just wanted to get everything for my team because they mean everything to me.”
The teams were even the rest of the way until the Shamrocks went on a 10-0 run midway through the fourth quarter to cut a 57-42 lead to five points after Fisher had left the game for a couple of minutes after she came to a stop and said her knee felt “unstable.”
“That’s the first time that’s happened,” Krafty said. “She was right in front of me and she picked up the ball and started saying, ‘call timeout, call timeout.’ Having known her for so long, she had a look on her that just wasn’t quite right. So, we called timeout.”
“It felt like it was going to cave in,” she said. “The smart thing for me was I needed to get out of the game — I needed to reevaluate, get a rest and just see where my knee was at that point.”
“It’s just a little bit of scar tissue from what (the trainers) are saying,” Krafty said. “She feels fine, no swelling — nothing, so everything seems to be good.”
Krafty said Fisher was able to cut to the hoop a little bit better during the Patriots trip to Florida just before the New Year.
“She’s better than her last home game here,” he said. “She’s doing more stuff going to the basket — attacking the middle a little bit more. So, we’re real pleased with where she’s at and how she’s doing. Obviously, her health is what’s most import. So, we’ll watch that.”
“I think I’ll have to take a couple of days just to rest and regroup and start strengthening it again,” Fisher said.
The injury seemed to spark the Rocks. Emma Warnsman and Abby Vollmer hit three-pointers to bookend the 10-0 run for Coffman (10-2, 6-1). Jacy Shelton scored the other four points and finished with a game-high 26.
“We know from past events with this team that they never let up and we respect them for that,” Fisher said. “They always give us a great game and great competition.”
“Any time you beat Coffman, you’re doing something right because they do have a nice team,” Krafty said. “The Sheldon kid — she can play.”
Fisher fed Gracie Foth for a layup on the right side to end the run before Yashko hit four-of-six free throws down the stretch to seal the win for Liberty.
Yashko led the Patriots with 18 points and hit three three-pointers. She also had five rebounds. Fisher finished with 15 points, including 10 in the third quarter, and five assists and Lauren Hofer added 13 points, five rebounds, three blocks, two steals and two assists.
“(Yashko is) very, very solid,” Krafty said. “She got a little squirrelly on me there for a minute or two in the fourth. But, she gets better every day and it’s something that we need. We need another guard to handle the ball and take some pressure off of Lex. With Bre and Lexi and Lauren, that’s pretty good balance.”
Coffman ended Liberty’s dream of a perfect regular season with a 47-40 win in Powell in the season finale last season.
“I was really hyped for this game,” Yashko said. “We never wanted to feel like that again. We just used that as fuel today and I think that worked because we came out really strong.”
The Patriots got some measure of revenge by defeating the Shamrocks in the district final 53-45.
Now, Liberty (12-0, 7-0) is alone in first place in the OCC-Central with its perfect record intact, while snapping Coffman’s 10-game winning streak.
Warnsman scored nine and Lilly Edwards added six with a game-high 10 rebounds for the Rocks.
Liberty travels to league foe Thomas Worthington Friday night for the second of three games this week. Tip is scheduled for 7:30 p.m.
Follow Michael Rich on Twitter @mrichdelgazette.