Liberty girls basketball coach Rich Santigate knows playing in close games helps his team’s maturation process.
The Patriots took a big step forward Friday.
Free throws by senior Tae’lor Monroe and junior Sydney Clark in the final 44 seconds gave Liberty enough cushion to gain a 51-47 victory over West Torrance (Calif.) in the Las Vegas Holiday Classic at Centennial.
The Patriots (11-4), who beat Shadow Ridge, 60-10 earlier Friday, finished 4-0 in pool play to earn a spot in Saturday’s semifinals at 11:40 a.m. The championship is scheduled at 3:40 p.m. Liberty has won 10 straight games since a 1-4 start.
“Playing a game like this really gives you confidence,” Santigate said. “We missed a lot of foul shots down the stretch, but we made the ones when we needed them.”
The Patriots hit 4 of 6 free throws in the final 44 seconds to overcome a 13-for-26 overall performance from the line.
Sophomore Paris Strawther led the Patriots with 20 points and 12 rebounds, and Clark supplied 12 points.
Liberty was in control 31-22 early in the third quarter before a 3-point barrage carried West Torrance into the lead.
Sydney Chase, who made seven 3s to score a game-high 21 points, nailed one from behind the arc to cap an 18-8 surge that put West Torrance ahead 40-39 with 4:59 remaining.
From there, it became a classic chess match — the strong inside game of Liberty against the 3-point shooting of West Torrance, which made 10 of 22 from behind the arc.
Consecutive baskets by junior Jamellia Clark and Strawther put Liberty ahead 45-41 with about three minutes left, but Chase answered with another 3-pointer.
Liberty’s defense held West Torrance to three points in the final two minutes to gain the victory.
“This was a fun game to be involved with,” Santigate said. “I can’t say enough about the way (Strawther) played. She made the difference inside.”
Liberty 60, Shadow Ridge 10 — Jamellia Clark scored 11 points, and Paris Strawther added 10 points as the Patriots cruised by the Mustangs.
Liberty took control from the start, racing to a 15-2 lead.
Kiyanna Tolbert had six points for the Mustangs, which made 3 of 31 attempts from the field.
Centennial 51, Spanish Springs 31 — Jada Brown had 13 points, and Breanna Workman scored 11 as the Bulldogs downed the Cougars.
Centennial 58, Woodbridge (Calif.) 51 — Brown tallied 19 points, and the Bulldogs made 20 of 26 free throws on their way to the win over Woodbridge.
Tamera Williams added 15 points for Centennial.
Wendy Shiga led Woodbridge with 22 points.
Arbor View 53, Valley 41 — Ariona Gill registered 13 points, and the Aggies used a 21-11 second-quarter run to top the Vikings.
Jocelyn Jordan added 11 points for Arbor View.
Gabby Cabanero led all scorers with 26 points for Valley.
Spanish Springs 58, Western 40 — Riley Holladay scored 11 of her 14 points in the first quarter as the Cougars ran past the Warriors.
Capricia Pierce scored 15 of her 17 points in the fourth quarter for Western.
West Anchorage (Alaska) 68. Western 48 — Chanel Bookert had 17 points to help West Anchorage down the Warriors.
Pierce led Western with 29 points.
Dimond (Alaska) 57, Coronado 34 — Aminata Cole tallied 15 points, and the Lynx raced to leads of 20-6 after one quarter and 37-11 at the half on their way to a win over the Cougars.
Ione Fischer had 13 points, and Sierra Afoa scored 11 for Dimond.
Sofie Cruz had 18 points for Coronado, which went just 4 of 25 from the field in the first half.
Reno 60, Desert Oasis 40 — Gigi Hascheff had 15 points, and the Huskies used a 16-6 first-quarter spurt to top the Diamondbacks.
Tatiana Kearn had 14 points to pace Desert Oasis.
Desert Oasis 46, Coronado 39 — Kearn sank five 3-pointers and had 18 points to help the Diamondbacks down the Cougars.
Sammi Tso added 13 points for Desert Oasis.
Cruz led Coronado with 14 points, and Ashley Johnson and Skylar Feldman each scored 10.
Fairfax (Calif.) 48, Valley 29 — John’ea Thompson had 17 points and Angelica Laury added 13 as the Lions topped the Vikings.
Cabanero led Valley with 13 points.
Hazard (Ky.) 57, Shadow Ridge 23 — The Bulldogs had three players in double figures in an easy win over the Mustangs.
Hazard held Shadow Ridge to a pair of field goals in the opening quarter, and cruised from there.