GARLAND – Not many predicted the Liberty girls basketball would finish this season with a district title and a regional tournament appearance – much less punch its ticket to state in the process.
But that’s exactly what the Redhawks did Saturday afternoon by hanging on for a thrilling 48-43 victory over Midlothian to advance to the state tournament for a second consecutive season.
What makes this year’s feat even more impressive is the fact that Liberty is headed back to San Antonio after graduating its entire starting lineup from last season and returned just two players in all from that roster.
Nonetheless, this group consisting of just one senior is state-bound.
“This is really special because it’s new,” said Ross Reedy, Liberty head coach. “It says a lot about everyone that’s involved and the people that carried the torch for so long before this season.”
The Lady Redhawks needed a whopping three overtimes to squeak by a Midlothian squad that had given Liberty fits all game long before a last-minute rally in regulation tied things up at 30 apiece.
Then in all three overtime periods, Reedy’s crew faced an early deficit and overcame it every time before the Lady Redhawks finally soared ahead late after falling behind, 41-39 in overtime No. 3.
That’s when sophomore superstar Jazzy Owens-Barnett, who finished with a game-high 22 points, handed her team the lead for good with a dazzling drive into the lane resulting in an and-one to go up by one point.
After a stop on the defensive end, Owens-Barnett then found junior sharpshooter Lily Ziemkiewicz on the wing, as she splashed home a contested 3-pointer to give Liberty a late four-point lead and a comfortable cushion to close things out in the final minute.
“Any time Lily’s shoots I’m confident, but right there I thought don’t shoot it,” Reedy said. “But she buried it and was as big as any shot up to that point.”
In the second overtime period, Midlothian’s Kadia Ward put the Panthers up one in the opening seconds with a free throw, but on Liberty’s next offensive possession junior Maya Jain nailed a 3-ball from the corner before Midlothian eventually forced triple overtime with a pair of shots from the charity stripe.
“If you’re a shooter, you have to shoot,” Reedy said. “[Jain] always has the green light, and our full expectations are when she has those opportunities that she has to take them.”
Another monster make for Liberty after regulation came in the first overtime with an Owens-Barnett layup to get the Lady Redhawks within one before the sophomore sensation went to the line with 4.4 seconds left and a chance to potentially end things right then and there.
Her first attempt was good but the second clanked off the rim, as Midlothian was then unable to get a good look at a game-winner after the defensive rebound while the two sides remained deadlocked at 36-36.
Owens-Barnett was also instrumental in the comeback effort in the fourth quarter with her team down by six with just a couple of minutes to go. She went on to score six of Liberty’s final eight points to close out the fourth on an 8-2 run and even secured the defensive rebound on a crucial stop to help force overtime.
Buckets were not as easy to come by in the first quarter for either side with Midlothian leading 4-2 after one.
In fact, there were just two made field goals in total in the opening quarter, but a more energetic second stanza saw two ties and a pair of lead changes before a 9-0 Midlothian run gave the Panthers a 14-10 advantage going into the break.
“Our defensive game plan was good, but our offensive game plan was trash,” Reedy said. “You have to put that on me.”
Luckily, Liberty experienced a bit of an offensive explosion out of the break with big baskets from Jain, Owens-Barnett and senior Kyla Crawford, but Midlothian stayed hot as well with a pair of triples from senior Jerica Henderson, who finished with 11 points.
Henderson even started off the fourth quarter with a short jumper in the paint, which was followed by a Aaniyah Hayes floater to put the Panthers ahead by five before Liberty came roaring back down the stretch.
The Lady Redhawks will now take on Veterans Memorial Thursday at the Alamodome in San Antonio with a berth in the state championship game on the line.