Valley Christian knocks off Liberty, 62-54

Tribune Chronicle / John Vargo Liberty’s China Tate, right, and India Snyder of Valley Christian pursue a loose ball Saturday at Liberty.

LIBERTY — Bill Hoelzel looked down his bench.

Seven bodies.

He didn’t like what happened in the first 16 minutes of Saturday’s game.

A handful of turnovers, and chucking up shots and not finding anything except the clanking sound of iron most of the time.

That didn’t faze this Valley Christian girls basketball team. They got plenty of second-chance opportunities and the ball pressure was too much for Liberty to overcome.

Tribune Chronicle / John Vargo Liberty’s Delia Watson, left, tries to get away from the pressure of Valley Christian’s India Snyder Saturday.

An early third-quarter run in this Division IV sectional bracket final resulted in a 62-54 victory for the fifth-seeded Eagles over the host and fourth-seeded Leopards.

Valley Christian came out on a 16-4 run to start the third quarter and was up 46-35 on Taylor Jones’ basket. She and Imane Snyder each had 14 points, while Kristen Gill led with 16 points and 12 rebounds. Snyder added 10 rebounds as Valley Christian outrebounded Liberty 44-28.

The Eagles knew they came in with a height discrepancy, a fact they face most games. They overcame that with intestinal fortitude they developed in the offseason.

Hoelzel there’s a saying on the back of warm-up jerseys of 60-percent more.

“We teach our girls, as in life, there’s going to be times in their lives where they feel like they can’t take another step,” he said. “It’s on this court, wins and losses don’t matter, they learn when life tells them they can’t take another step, they can take another step. I got 60 percent more to give.”

Liberty coach Deidre Watson said she knew Valley Christian was one of those rare teams, one that could match her team’s speed and then some.

It showed in Liberty’s 24 turnovers, seven in each of the first three quarters.

“We knew coming in protecting the ball, making good passes was going to be the key to winning,” Watson said.

Delia Watson, who fouled out with a minute remaining, led Liberty with 20 points. China Tate, a senior, added 17. Sharda Williamson, the team’s leading scorer, was held to five points — 10 below her average.

The future is bright for Liberty as most of its team returns.

“We had a tremendous run,” Deidre Watson said. “I can’t thank them enough for the work they’ve done.”

On Wednesday, Valley Christian faces top-seeded Jackson-Milton at Mineral Ridge High School in a district semifinal, starting at 6 p.m.

As soon as the Eagles season ends, it’s back to training for the 2018-19 season. For a team with limited numbers, it’s the only way to stay ahead of the competition.

“At times, my girls hate me,” Hoelzel said. “At times like this, they love me. We’re Division IV because there’s no Division IX.”