Liberty coach Quintin Lester loves to see his team run.
But in the first half of Thursday’s Class 4A state semifinal against Bishop Gorman, Lester watched his team run itself out of some scoring opportunities.
The Patriots were playing like a sped-up record, moving too quickly for their own good.
A halftime chat and an 8-0 run later, though, the Patriots were golden.
Liberty used a solid second-half transition game and quality free-throw shooting to post the biggest win in the program’s history, knocking out the Gaels, 58-53 at the Orleans Arena.
The Patriots (27-2) will meet Centennial (31-1) for the championship at 6 p.m. Friday in Liberty’s first-ever trip to the title game.
“It was a point of emphasis at halftime,” Lester said of the transition game. “I think it might have been a little jitters, but once we settled down, we were good.”
Liberty had 12 first-half turnovers, but many of them came as a result of trying to play too quickly. Passes sailed over heads or were too far in front of their intended recipients.
Finally in the third quarter, it clicked.
Consecutive baskets in transition by Alena Evans and Destiny Whitehead sparked an 8-0 run that turned a 35-29 deficit into a 37-35 lead.
And the Patriots, who appeared to be on the ropes early in the second quarter when they fell behind 20-12, suddenly had all sorts of momentum.
“It’s that year of experience,” said Lester, whose team lost to Reed in the state semifinals last year. “Everyone got a year older, and they understood they have to withstand the runs.”
Liberty increased its lead to 50-44 midway through the fourth quarter, but Gorman (24-7) hung around and closed to within 55-53 on Zhane Dikes’ jumper with 47 seconds to play and had a chance to tie the game with 22 seconds to go, but missed two free throws.
Jade Washington and Whitehead combined to hit 3 of 4 from the line in the closing seconds, and Whitehead had a big steal in between, to close the game.
Evans paced Liberty with 18 points. Amanda Delgado scored 16 and Whitehead 15 for the Patriots, who sank 19 of 26 free throws.
“We practiced a lot lately with pressure free throws,” Lester said.
Gorman, on the other hand, was dreadful from the line, making 12 of 25.
“Less than 50 percent,” Gorman coach Sheryl Krmpotich said. “We talk about it. We work on it. It’s a characteristic of being young.”
Dikes finished with 14 points and 17 rebounds for Gorman. April Rivers added 14 points — 13 in the first half — and Julia Ewalefo scored 10 for the Gaels.
“We had some kids who didn’t show up,” Krmpotich said. “Zhane was the huge bright spot. April had a great first half. It’s disappointing, but we’ll learn from it.”