Special to West Valley Preps
It’s a word that characterizes so much and can summarize an effort whether individually or as a unit.
It also has been ingrained in the Liberty Lions program by its only head coach, Mark Wood. Their style of play portrayed that nine-letter word.
Sophomore Jacob Edhal hit free-throws down the stretch and a Dom Ciccaglione deep three ball to tie it at 80 was clutch. No. 15 seed Liberty clawed out a gritty upset victory 93-89 in the 5A basketball first round game at No. 2 Phoenix Arcadia.
The Lions hadn’t led since 2-0 but kept running, pressing and shooting throughout. This team’s trademark relentless approach allowed them to remain in striking distance for the course of 32 minutes.
“Stay the course is what I told them when down seven entering the fourth,” said Wood.
The underdog never rattled. They took the lead for good at 84-82 via foul-trouble for the Titans.
Edhal hit four and senior captain Cole Roether hit his to pull off the stunning comeback.
An absolute frantic pace in the first half saw the Titans get out to a 24-18 end of first and 48-42 halftime lead.
Liberty (20-7) had won 16 of 17 entering the contest but only earned the 15 seed. They felt they were a little under-appreciated.
Roether, who finished 20, was pleased with the comeback effort.
“We never hung our heads. We have a group of competitors. We worry about what we can handle. Right now we feel we belong with anyone. Arcadia is a great Basketball team so that’s huge. We’ll bring the toughness in Tucson,” added Roether.
The pace was unlike anything Coach Danford and Arcadia had seen recently and right up Liberty’s alley.
In fact the scorers table opted not to keep the stats on the visitor side of the board. The Lions’ substitution pattern — which resembles a hockey line change every minute or two — was their reasoning.
But Arcadia’s Reed Richardson, Aidyn Weber, and Max Moses, as per usual, kept grinding and had answers for the first 28 minutes. It was an instant-classic high school basketball game that unfortunately had to have one eliminated.
The Titans concluded 23-4, winning the 5A Northeast Valley.
As for the Lions they’ll look to keep the momentum going and take toughness on a bit longer road trip Saturday at No. 10 Tucson Sahuaro. The game starts at 6:30.