Jamellia Clark didn’t need to say anything to Tali Pitt late in the fourth quarter Friday.
All it took was a look.
Clark tracked down Pitt’s long inbounds pass over the top of the Canyon Springs defense and scored on a layup with 10 seconds remaining to give Liberty a 39-37 victory in a physical Sunrise Region girls basketball final at Green Valley.
“I saw the defense was overplaying me on the left side,” Clark said. “We gave each other the look. We knew.”
Clark finished with 10 points for the Patriots, who won their third region title in the past four years. Liberty (27-6) advances to the Division I state tournament and will play at 6:20 p.m. Thursday at Orleans Arena.
The Patriots will learn their opponent after the play-in game between Canyon Springs (23-6) and Bishop Gorman at 4 p.m. Monday at Del Sol.
“I told them we’re still in it,” Pioneers coach Dorothy Kendrick said. “We still have a chance, and we’re going to utilize every opportunity.”
Canyon Springs, which rallied from a five-point hole to tie the game at 37 with 1:13 remaining, had two chances to take the lead late. La’Kiya Yarber’s shot with 25 seconds left didn’t fall, and after Cherise Beynon’s steal with 18.7 seconds remaining, Daijhan Cooks couldn’t convert, either.
Liberty was awarded possession with 14.6 seconds to go after a tie-up on the rebound following Cooks’ miss, and that’s when Pitt hit Clark with a long pass to break the Pioneers’ full-court trap.
“That’s one of the options they can look for,” first-year Patriots coach Rich Santigate said. “That’s chemistry from playing together.”
Said Kendrick: “We were trying to be aggressive and get a steal. Unfortunately, it didn’t work.”
Canyon Springs had a shot to tie, but Beynon’s baseline floater with two seconds left rattled out. Beynon led the Pioneers with 14 points and six steals to go with five rebounds.
“We were trying to make sure we attacked the basket,” Kendrick said. “We thought she got fouled, but we didn’t get the call we wanted.”
Sydney Clark paced Liberty with 13 points, including 11 in the pivotal third quarter.
The Patriots struggled with Canyon Springs’ pressure early — they committed 21 of their 36 turnovers in the first half — and trailed 24-10 late in the second quarter. But Liberty scored the final eight points of the half and first 10 points of the third quarter to turn the game around.
Canyon Springs was 1-for-14 from the field in the third quarter as the Patriots went to a big lineup that featured 6-foot-2-inch Paris Strawther and 6-2 Dayanni Cochran. The duo combined to block eight shots, five in the third quarter.
“Our strength is our size,” Santigate said. “We are a very young team. Most of the girls haven’t been in a situation like this, even in middle school. We have to learn how to win those types of games.”