EARL WATT • Leader & Times
While the Lady Redskins receive a lot of attention for the ability to score, it has been their defense that has helped them win close games this season, and Wednesday’s Sub-State opener against Junction City gave the defense a chance to shine in a 46-16 blowout victory.
While the offense continued to find ways to pick apart the Lady Blue Jay zone, the Lady Red defense kept the clamps on Junction City, and a full court press in the final seconds of the first quarter turned a 6-5 game into a 10-5 lead for the Lady Redskins.
The offense picked up in the second quarter for Liberal sparked by a three from Hailey Contreras and strong moves at the basket from Rylie Hallman.
But the Lady Red defense didn’t let up and only allowed Junction City to connect on two baskets and a free throw in the period, and by halftime Liberal led 24-11.
And for the defense, the best was yet to come.
Liberal only allowed two made free throws in the third quarter and now baskets, and Contreras continue to shine by driving to the basket. Hallie West added a three-point in the period, and the Lady Redskins started to run away with a 36-13 lead.
About three minutes into the fourth quarter, the Lady Redskins gained a 30-point lead which enacted the running clock, and Liberal finished the game by only allowing three points in the final quarter in a 46-16 blowout win. With the lead, Liberal coach Brandi Fowler was able to put Lizzy Cisneros, Jenna Ormiston, Rachelle Terrazas, Rylie Hallman and Hallie West — all five Liberal seniors — on the floor at the same time.
Contreras led Liberal with 20 points including three three-pointers. Hallman scored eight, and Shamari Lewis had seven.
While the Lady Redskins were taking care of Junction City, others in the gym were watching the score of the Dodge City/Wichita Southeast game since the winner would be coming to Liberal for the Sub-State championship game Saturday. The score in the game went back and forth, but Southeast finally took control in the final minute for a 38-32 win. The Lady Buffaloes will face Liberal in The Big House at 6 p.m. Saturday.
“The beginning was tough,” Fowler said. “Defensively we did well, but our offensive plays weren’t great. We were tight on our shots. It’s time to step up, and they did in the second half.”
The strong night for Contreras was key and may be the template moving forward if the Lady Redskins are going to continue to penetrate against the press.
“Hailey’s game is so complex,” Fowler said. “She can score in different ways, and she makes a lot of other plays for our team that don’t show up on the stat sheet. She is definitely one of our keys on the court. We are confident with them all, but she gives us that added playmaker ability.”
The final home game Saturday can be special if Liberal is prepared, according to Fowler.
“I’m excited the girls earned a chance to play on our floor one more time,” she said. “We would love nothing more than to have two great days of practice and come out here and perform like we know we can.”
Last year Liberal had to travel to Topeka for the Sub-State title game, but this year they have the home court advantage.
“You get used to your home floor,” Fowler said. “Most of your shots are taken in this gym. We have confidence at home, and having our crowd and fans to support us and the love we get from Liberal, we are so blessed to keep it going.”
Liberal has advanced to the Sub-State championship six consecutive seasons and had State tournament appearances in 2018 (third), 2019 and 2020 (suspended due to COVID).