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Late free throws help Liberty edge Girard, 69-67

Staff photo / Brian Yauger Liberty senior D’Andre Venters (4) goes for a layup while being defended by Girard junior Gus Johnson (1) Saturday night.

LIBERTY — Despite nipping at their heels for most of the game, Liberty was unable to get ahead of Girard. All that clawing and scratching paid off for the Leopards however, as they turned the tide in the fourth quarter, getting the best of their rivals, 69-67, in the hardwood edition of the Battle of Belmont.

“It was an exciting game for us last year at Girard and it turned out to be the same thing here,” Leopards coach Levon Lamb said. “Coach (Craig) Hannon, with the job they’re doing right now and the record they have this year, you’ve got to take your hat off to them. That was just a hard-fought gritty game. Both sets of kids wanted it bad, both coaching staffs wanted it bad and I knew it was just going to come down to whoever made the last play or whoever was able to execute down and thankfully it was us.”

Picking up the rivalry win made it all the more special. It being an exciting game didn’t hurt either.

“What a type of game to play,” Lamb said. “If I was watching it, I would have loved watching it, but coaching it just was even more enjoyable. It’s just even more enjoyable. My hat’s off to them. Our kids played all the way through. Being down almost all afternoon, coming back, never quitting and coming together. That’s just been part of what we’ve been hanging our hat on and it showed this afternoon.”

A big part of the Leopards’ success this year has come from the team’s senior class. Seniors James Davis and D’Andre Venters led the team on the scoresheet Saturday, potting 25 and 18 respectively.

In the game’s final seconds, Venters scored what would be the game-winning points at the free throw line.

For both teams, defense was the difference-maker. When push came to shove, Liberty was able to buckle down and make stops.

“We knew we had to get stops and we knew that once we got stops, we’re always very, very confident that we can get a score on the other end,” Lamb said.

Girard (8-4) struggled late in the game and it wound up sinking them in the end.

“We never defended them for one second,” Indians coach Craig Hannon said. “They got downhill on us whatever they wanted, got to the rim whenever they wanted it, or (we had an) inability to get stops. And I thought late in the game, they just did a poor job of understanding time and score.”

Offensively, the team had four players reach double figures. Mike Palmer and Gus Johnson each scored 13 points and Bobby Alejars and Thomas Cardiero each scored 12.

Up next, the Leopards have a few extra days off before hitting the road to face Crestview on Friday. Liberty got the best of them earlier in the year, but that doesn’t mean they can look past the Rebels.

“They have shooters, they have players, they have athletes,” Lamb said. “They’ve got a never quit spirit down there. Coach is doing a good job with him down here as well. It’s going to be a game for sure. We’re going to have to get after them, we’re going to have to play defense, we’re going to have to execute. We’re going to have to make shots and play to come out victorious.”

On Tuesday, Girard travels to LaBrae to take on the Vikings.

byauger@tribtoday.com

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