Liberty Bell girls win state basketball title
By Dave Ongie, News Editor
During preseason practice, Liberty Bell girls’ basketball coach Anthony McInturff wasn’t sure what to make of the constant laughter emitting from his basketball team.
But underneath the steady stream of punchlines and pranks was a hard-working basketball team that laughed and labored its way to a state championship last weekend. Liberty Bell knocked off Houston 48-23 in the semifinals before subduing a tall, talented Oakland team by the score of 46-35 in the TMSAA title game on Saturday at Stewarts Creek High School in Smyrna.
Kierra Morrow, a talented post player who scored 14 points in the semifinals and 10 in the finals, said laughter was the key to shaking off the nerves that can set in during pressure-packed postseason games. But the joking around also created a strong bond between the players on the team.
“We got in trouble a lot in practice, but the joking around made us a team,” Morrow said. “That’s how we got to know each other, and I think that’s why we all played good together.”
Prior to the season, McIntuff said he asked the players on the team to list their top three goals for the season. Nearly every girl had making a state tournament appearance or winning a state title somewhere on her list.
In order to ensure his team was ready for the rigors of postseason competition, McInturff scheduled tough non-conference games during the regular season. Included in that gauntlet was a demanding tournament in Knoxville over Christmas vacation.
“The schedule was as tough as I could make it,” McInturff said. “These girls just kept getting better as the year went along, and they kept buying into the things we were trying to do.”
Using a balanced, unselfish scoring attack and an up-tempo style of play, the Lady Patriots found themselves in the sectionals. Despite the tough road they’d faced during the regular season, McInturff detected some serious nerves in his players as they arrived at the gym and watched the game before their contest.
By the time they got to the pregame locker room, however, a few jokes brought forth that familiar laughter, and the nerves seemed to flutter out of the room. The Lady Patriots went out and claimed the sectional title, which cleared the way for a state championship.
Sydney Mains was a major contributor for Liberty Bell all year long. She said the team was firing on all cylinders by the time they got to the state tournament.
“I think we all played very well, and I think that made a big difference, our ability to score as a team,” said Mains, who led the way with 15 points in the semifinals and 21 in the title game.
Houston came out aggressive in the semifinals, testing Liberty Bell’s guards with a tough man-to-man defense, but the Lady Patriots took care of the ball and found open shots, which led to a runaway victory.
The title game featured an Oakland team with a post player who stood over 6 feet tall. McInturff credited Morrow and Kirsten Heaton for playing tough defense in the paint.
There is no doubt McInturff will never forget the team he coached to a state title, and not just because the roster was loaded with good basketball players. McInturff said he will remember Mains, Morrow, Heaton, Ella Adams, Zaylah Bowling, Lexi Green, Kaya Greenlee, Abigail Mazoff, Audrei Miller, Kaylee Oler, Kinley Pointer and Amaya Redd first and foremost because they are good people.
“I’m going to remember the hard work they put in, the joking around that they did,” McInturff said. “They’re just a great bunch of girls. They worked hard. I’m going to remember that most of all.”