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June 06th, 2020

hunterhatcherfinaleHunter Hatcher calls a play for the Redskins in Garden City earlier this season. The Redskins traveled to Topeka in the firts round of Sub-State and ended the season with a 65-50 loss to the Trojans. L&T photo/Earl WattBy EARL WATT

Leader & Times

The Redskins fell behind early and never recovered in the first round of Sub-State in Topeka Wednesday, falling to the Trojans 65-50 to end the season at 8-13.

“Going in to the game, we knew they would apply a ton of pressure with a full court press,” Liberal coach Ryan Petty said. “They wanted to try to take us out early. We prepared for it, but it was hard to emulate their size and length. We dug a pretty big hole.”

Both teams struggled to score in the first tow minutes, but the pressure started to take its toll on the Redskins, and after several turnovers Topeka had a 12-2 led.

By the end of the first quarter, Topeka jumped out 18-7.

“The start of the second quarter was really bad for us,” Petty said. “We turned it over two or three times in a  row,  and went down 18.”

By halftime, Liberal was down 32-12.

And the senior-led Topeka Trojans didn’t miss a step to start the second half.

“We needed to make a statement early in the third quarter,” Petty said. “It went the opposite way. At the end of the third and into the fourth, they were leaking guys out, and it got out of hand, We fought back in the fourth, but it was too little, too late.”

Liberal outscored Topeka 25-13 in the final period for the 65-50 final.

The loss ended Liberal’s season, one that started with optimism at 4-2 including a win over Western Athletic Conference foe Dodge City, but the losses started to mount, and after an 0-2 start to the Salina Invitational Tournament, the Redskins were 5-7.

Wins over Concordia and Hugoton pulled Liberal back to 7-7, but the Redskins would only win one more game the rest of the season, a 54-40 victory over Cimarron.

“It was a disappointing season,” Petty said. “We had a group that had played a ton of minutes. We had improved our win total from two years ago last year, and then we went the opposite way. I could name six games that were close that we could have won or should have won but we didn’t. That’s tought to swallow. You can’t win all the close games, but you want to win the majority. We didn’t.”

Liberal already played shorthanded to start the season when Brodie Sumner moved, and Israel Avalos was injured during football season.

“Last year at this time, we thought we were only going to lose Jordan,” Petty said. “Instead we lose Brodie who scored about 10 a game, and Israel scored eight. Those two guys were projected to be our best offensive players, and we didn’t have those guys. Others had to step up and fill different roles, and we didn’t score well enough to win more games.”

Other issues late in the season also led to some missed playing time for the players Petty did have that were part of two close losses. 

“We shot in the 30 (percent range), and from three in the 20 (percent range),” Petty said. “That’s down 5 percent from last year. Without a big presence like Israel down low, we struggled to score at the rim. You are forced to take jump shots, and we didn’t make enough of them.”

But the absence of two starters opened up spots for others, and Petty said the experienced gained by the Redskins this year will help with next year’s team.

“It allowed some of our younger guys to play,” he said. “We had some juniors, a couple sophomores, moving forward, that will benefit them. There was more playing time. They know how fast the varsity game is. That will hep in the future. Moving forward, if we don’t have a dominant big, you have to shoot well. We will have to shoot it better than we did this year to compete.”

The team will rely on those players who had to step up this year, including AJ Ramirez and Alex Lopez. Malcolm Wiltshire and Embry Williams will also see more playing time next season.

IN addition to them, Shay Keet, Logan Miller and Coby Tran will carry the load, and Petty is expecting to see contributions from sophomores Carson Gilmore and Aldo Avalos.

Freshmen Israel Rotolo, Chris Robledo and Isaiah Jenkins are also expected to compete for playing time.

“We will be relatively young but have some pieces that have varsity action,” Petty said. “They played a lot of varsity. Those three or four sophomores added to the mix in there, possibly a freshman —  it will be wide open.”

The key to seeing the program improve will be the dedication of the younger players committing to summer programs and joining traveling teams.

“If you don’t have a group playing in the summer, then it is difficult to compete with other schools that are,” Petty said. “I think the rec enter will help. It’s good that a gym is open and available. That hasn’t always happened here in Liberal. A town the size of Liberal was probably one of the largest in the country without a rec center. Now we finally do, but we need to make it productive. A lot of kids will be able to touch a basketball. We don’t just want street basketball, but we want to see them developing so they don’t pick up bad habits.”

With a positive outlook, Petty added that fan support was definitely not a problem.

“We appreciate the support,” Petty said. “I know it was tough with our third straight losing season, but we appreciate the fans who cheer us on. We are working hard and  will keep working hard.”

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