Liberty girls basketball coach Rich Santigate had the postseason on his mind Tuesday as he sent his team onto the court.
His players evidently shared those thoughts and sent a convincing message to their Southeast League opponents by rolling to a 39-18 road victory over Coronado.
Paris Strawther had 14 points and 13 rebounds to lead the Patriots (21-6, 7-0 Southeast), who avenged a Jan. 4 tournament loss to the Cougars.
“Paris is like an automatic double-double,” Santigate said. “She’s been our most consistent player. She’s only a sophomore, and she just keeps getting better and better.”
But Strawther was not Liberty’s only difference-maker. The Patriots used their height advantage to finish with a 46-20 rebounding edge.
“We play from inside out,” Santigate said. “Obviously, we’re blessed with size, and we try to use that to our advantage.”
That advantage became apparent early, as the Patriots’ relentless defense shut down Coronado’s inside game while limiting the Cougars to one shot each possession. An 8-0 opening run put Liberty in control, and Coronado managed just two first-half field goals on the way to an 18-5 halftime deficit.
Santigate said his squad got into early foul trouble in the last meeting between the teams.
“We’ve been working on our defense, and it paid off,” he said. “It comes down to defense, rebounding and positioning.”
The Cougars (15-8, 4-3) were unable to threaten until Sofie Cruz began hitting shots, starting with a long 2-pointer at the end of the first half. Cruz, who finished with eight points, nailed two more long shots early in the third quarter to cut Coronado’s deficit to 25-14, but Sydney Clark answered with a driving 4-footer to spark a 10-0 Liberty run that extended into the fourth.
Santigate said his team has matured with each game.
“I think we’re getting more intelligent,” he said. “We’re young, but we’re growing.”
Clark, who finished with 12 points, nine rebounds and two steals, scored six points during the final 10 minutes to keep the Patriots in control. Santigate was able to unload his bench in the final minutes.
Santigate said the victory put his team in good position with just three regular-season games remaining.
“We might see (Coronado) again,” the coach said. “So it will be nice to know that we beat them on their court.”
Ashley Johnson had six points and three rebounds to help the Cougars.