Balance lifts Liberty

Leopards claim key win in AAC Blue

Special to Tribune Chronicle / Dianna Oatridge Liberty’s Nysa Gilchrist (32) and Karrington Rucker (21) try to stop Izzy Kline of Newton Falls Wednesday night on the Tigers’ floor. Kline scored 22 points, but the Leopards pulled out a 54-48 victory.

NEWTON FALLS — Everyone played a part in a real team effort for Liberty Wednesday evening, an effort that led to a big win in the All-American Conference Blue Tier.

Karrington Rucker and Nysa Gilchrist each scored 12 and Delia Watson had 11, as the Leopards’ balanced attack was enough for a 54-48 win over Newton Falls.

The win was the fifth in a row for the Leopards (8-2, 5-1 AAC-Red) and broke the Tigers’ four-game winning streak. It also was Newton Falls’ (7-4, 3-1) first loss in the tier.

“It was really special to share this with my teammates. This was our first time beating them, so it was a really good moment and opportunity. We’re just blessed,” Rucker said.

“For me, it was a God thing, preparing, and praying about it. I think we just really came together as a team, and worked hard,” Gilchrist said.

Special to Tribune Chronicle / Dianna Oatridge Delia Watson of Liberty drives the baseline against Newton Falls defender Bree Hutson.

“We’ve been working real hard for this game. We’ve been practicing really hard to beat them. This was a goal of ours, for the season. I think we did our best,” Watson said.

The first thing you notice when watching Liberty is their speed. The Leopards fly up and down the court. Pushing the ball, Liberty got out to a 13-3 lead after one quarter.

Newton Falls started hitting a couple shots in the second, but fell behind even further, and trailed 31-14 at halftime.

“We came out cold in the first half. We struggled shooting the ball,” Newton Falls coach Mark Baker said.

Newton Falls got back in it in the third quarter. Tough defense and some timely shot-making helped the Tigers outscore Liberty 19-12 in the quarter.

Special to Tribune Chronicle / Dianna Oatridge Newton Falls defender Bree Hutson, left, tries to keep Liberty's China Tate from driving the lane Wednesday night.

After the strong start to the second half, Newton Falls still found itself trailing by 10 entering the fourth quarter. With six minutes left in the game, the Tigers cut it to six.

After a timeout, Liberty regrouped and pushed the lead back to 12. The Tigers had one more comeback. With 53 seconds left, Newton Falls cut the deficit to four points at 52-48. Liberty was able to hold on to the ball, hit a couple of free throws, and earn a hard-fought victory.

“In the second half, we did a better job in transition defense. We were able to get back and stop their transition game. We did a better job of taking care of the ball. We were stronger with the ball,” Baker said.

“I told the girls in the locker room at halftime, that Newton Falls was going to come back and going to get a lot more aggressive,” Liberty coach Deidre Watson said. “We had to get that much more aggressive. It was an intense game. They fought hard. Newton Falls played a great game, and we were able to come away with the win.

Izzy Kline had a game-high 22 points for Newton Falls. Kline was all over the court collecting rebounds, and doing anything she could to keep the Tigers close. Bree Hutson scored 12 and Libby Barreca nine in support.

Sharda Williamson scored nine and China Tate had eight for Liberty.

Coach Watson is in her third year with the Leopards. After struggling her first two seasons, Liberty is having an excellent season.

“We won three and lost the rest last year. Now in my third year here the girls are really buying in to what we’re trying to do,” Watson said.