MCKINNEY—One of the hallmarks for the Frisco Liberty girls basketball team during the last three seasons has been its shutdown defense.
The Redhawks have consistently found ways to put the clamps on their opponents, which leads to frustration, and generally, a loss.
There was a period of time on Tuesday when Wylie East was able to turn the tables on Liberty.
The Raiders held the Redhawks without a point for nearly seven minutes late in the third quarter and into the fourth, allowing them to turn a 13-point deficit into a 31-28 game with less than six minutes left.
But as Liberty has done time and time again during the last three seasons, it found a way. Ashley Anderson broke the drought with a layup to spark a quick 6-0 run and they ramped up their own defense, allowing Wylie East (28-4) only four points in the final 6:38 to claim a 39-32 victory in a Class 5A Region 2 championship game at McKinney High School.
The defending state champions are back in the state semifinals for the third consecutive season, though this time that does not include a trip to San Antonio, which is only hosting title games. Instead, the Redhawks (21-8) will meet the winner of the Lubbock Cooper, a 78-58 winner over Plainview on Tuesday, later this week at a time and place to be determined.
“I’m really happy for the kids, obviously,” Liberty head coach Ross Reedy said. “Earlier this year … I said trophies get dusty, but if you really want to do something, run it back, let’s go for another title this next year. That team (Wylie East), we knew all year that the three best teams in the region, if not four, were Wylie East, Red Oak, Frisco Memorial and Frisco Lone Star, so to knock off two of them during this run, we feel like we’re playing outside of ourselves because those are really quality ball clubs.”
A championship team generally has different players step up at various times during a run and Anderson filled that role on Tuesday.
The junior, who also happened to be celebrating her 17th birthday on Tuesday, set the tone from the start, converting a putback and then knocking down a 3-pointer to stake Liberty to an early 5-0 lead.
Anderson splashed a pair of 3-pointers in the third quarter and added six of her game-high 18 points in the fourth to help the Redhawks pull away down the stretch.
It was a rewarding night for a player who has fought through some injuries during the course of the season, but has battled through.
“We came into this year with Jazzy (Owens-Barnett) out with a torn Achilles, we had other people out and Ashley was our leader in the offseason,” Reedy said. “Jazzy Owens is a great player, Maya Jain is a great player, Lily Ziemkiewicz, the list goes on, but what determines how well we play is often Ashley Anderson and she’s been playing really well of late and obviously tonight was no exception.”
Though Anderson got off to a good start, both teams were fairly cold at the start.
Wylie East clawed back to tie it at 8-8 until Owens-Barnett hit a layup to give the Redhawks a two-point lead at the end of one quarter.
Maya Jain opened the second quarter with a splash, knocking down a 3-pointer with a foul and she completed the four-point play.
Owens-Barnett then sank two free throws and a trey to push out to a 19-11 advantage. Though the Liberty defense continued to do its job, Wylie East did get a three-point play from Akasha Davis and a 3-pointer from Taylor Dailey to stay within 20-14 at halftime.
Liberty had run away from North Forney in the second half of its regional semifinal win last week and threatened to do the same at Wylie East’s expense.
Anderson drained a pair of 3-pointers, Jain got inside for a layup and Lily Ziemkiewicz had a three-point play to cap a 11-2 run to open a 31-18 lead with 4:22 left in the third quarter.
But the Redhawks hit their cold spell at that time and the Raiders made their push, as Aaliyah Halsteid and Aleena Hawkins knocked down 3-pointers, Keyera Roseby hit a short jumper and Davis made two free throws to draw to within 31-28 early in the fourth.
But that was as close as it would get, as Anderson and Owens-Barnett connected on back-to-back layups and Anderson hit two free throws to extend the lead back to 37-28 with 4:31 left.
The Liberty defense did its job, forcing a number of turnovers and allowing only four points down the stretch, and it was fittingly Anderson’s layup with 22 seconds left that sealed the win.
“I’m proud of the whole team, we’re really good about flipping the switch and being in the moment,” Reedy said. “They are resilient. That is one of the things that we saw last year, we played Midlothian and didn’t play very well, College Station had us down the whole game and they’ve always been an incredible bounce back team and I think that’s one of the things that makes them even more unique than some of the other teams I have coached.”