Just two seasons ago, Liberty’s girls basketball team had difficulty competing with the top teams in the Sunrise Region.
After Thursday night, it’s difficult to make a case for any team in the region keeping up with the Patriots this year.
The Patriots (15-2, 6-0 Southeast) put on an impressive display of defense and quick-strike offense for the first three quarters before settling for a 78-51 victory at Green Valley in a battle for first place in the Southeast League.
Six games into the league season, the Patriots hold a two-game lead over their closest competitor and have won each league game by 15 or more points.
“When I took over, we were kind of hoping to win games,” second-year Liberty coach Quintin Lester said. “Once we saw we could win games against tough teams, our whole mindset changed. It’s really a testament to their hard work.”
After a slow start, the Patriots took advantage of 17 turnovers by Green Valley (9-5, 4-2) to build a 42-22 halftime lead.
But that was only the beginning.
The Patriots scored on 14 of their 17 possessions in the third quarter, driving into the paint, running in transition and getting stick-back baskets, to increase the lead to 72-31 after three quarters.
Liberty shot 13 of 24 from the field in the quarter, but 10 of the 11 misses resulted in offensive rebounds.
“At halftime, we said we were going to make a conscious effort to do what we do best, which is get out and pressure, advance the basketball and run our transition game,” Lester said. “Once we did that, the game really turned around.”
And the Patriots couldn’t have asked for a much more balanced attack.
Alena Evans, who carried the team through a rough stretch in the opening minutes, finished with 16 points and 10 rebounds. Jade Washington and Amanda Delgado scored 14 points apiece, and Destiny Whitehead came off the bench to score 12.
Evans, who played at Silverado last season, has been a key addition to the Patriots, who are eyeing higher goals after winning the Sunrise and advancing to the state semifinals last year.
“She’s extremely high energy,” Lester said of Evans. “She’s our best offensive rebounder. Pound for pound, she’s probably the toughest kid we have.”
Mackenzie Butler made four 3-pointers in the fourth quarter for the Gators, and finished with 23 points. Shavon Stevens added 12 points, and Angelica Mack grabbed 14 rebounds for Green Valley.