By Bill Cross For The Herald Bulletin
The Herald Bulletin
---- — PARKER CITY — Hoosier Hysteria was alive and well Saturday night as the host Golden Bears squared off with visiting Liberty Christian for the championship of the Monroe Central sectional.
After a rough start, the Lions showed their mettle in finishing off their quest for a third straight sectional title with a hard-fought 64-52 victory.
“(I’m) so proud of my guys,” Liberty Christian coach Jason Chappell said afterward. “First half we did not play well but our defense kept us in it.”
The quest for a Lion three-peat got off to a rough start as Monroe Central guard Jacob Combs hit 4-of-5 from 3-point range in the first half to stake the Bears to a 25-14 lead midway through the second quarter. Combs nailed 3s from 25-30 feet from the basket with ease. But the Lions did not panic. Instead, they stuck to their game plan of moving the ball on offense and playing solid defense. The result was a 9-2 run to end the half and trail 27-23 at halftime.
“They (Monroe Central) were 7-for-13 in the first half,” Chappell said, referring to the Bears shooting from beyond the arc. “We knew we needed to hold tight, we got it back to within four at halftime, we stuck to the game plan.”
After a rough first half, Preston Quinn and Franklin Nunn took control of the game in the third. Behind seven points from Quinn and nine from Nunn, the Lions went from a 27-23 deficit to a 43-40 lead after three quarters.
“Our coaches told us to stay focused, we knew they were going to hit some shots,” Nunn said as he held the sectional 55 trophy.
Nunn made a key play in the third as the Lions trailed 34-30. Cody Woolf appeared to be on his way to a breakaway lay up and a six-point Bear lead when Nunn swooped in from behind and swatted the ball away. Quinn hit two free throws after being fouled on the ensuing possession and instead of trailing by six, the Lions were within two. After a miss by Bracken Barga, Nunn converted a three-point play to give Liberty a 35-34 lead, its first advantage since a 6-5 lead in the first quarter. Liberty would trail two more times by just one point before Nunn scored the final four points of the third for a three-point Lions lead.
The game turned physical in the fourth as the teams locked in a battle. Liberty was feeling momentum, while Monroe Central was starting to see one getting away. Chris Nunn and Combs locked up in a jump ball early in the fourth that resulted in the two tumbling on the floor.
Combs hit a long 3-pointer from the right side with five minutes left to bring Monroe Central within one, but it would be the closest they would get for the rest of the game. What was working early for the Bears was not working late as they hit just two of 10 3-point attempts in the second half. The Lions were able to penetrate for easy baskets and converted free throws to pull away for the win.
The win gives Liberty its 18th win of the season against six losses, and it earns them the right to go to the Frankfort regional next Saturday with some experience of how things will go.
“Now that we have gone through this a couple of times, we know how to handle regional week,” Chappell said.
For now, it will be the three straight sectional titles on Chappell’s mind, not to mention being able to spend Sunday with his family.
“I’m not going to look at next week until Monday,” Chappell said with a smile.
Nunn led the Lions with 19 points and Quinn finished with 15. Chris Nunn (13) and Vincent Phillips (11) were also in double figures for the Lions. Liberty Christian out-rebounded Monroe Central 35-25 and shot 27 free throws to the Bears 11.
Combs had a game-high 21 points for Monroe Central, which finished its season 15-9 and lost to Liberty for the third year in a row in the sectional round.
Liberty Christian will play Seton Catholic at 10 a.m. Saturday at the Frankfort regional. The winner will advance to the final that night at 8 p.m.