ANDERSON, Ind. — When DeShon Gibbs was a youngster attending Indiana Christian Academy, he regularly spent his summer days playing pick-up basketball games with friends going to Liberty Christian.
Like many before and after, Gibbs quickly realized the potential he was seeing on the court.
"I knew something was special with these guys I was playing with," the Lions' senior guard said earlier this week. "And I knew I wanted to be part of it."
Gibbs transferred to Liberty Christian before his freshman year, and his senior class — that includes Preston Quinn, Ben Bowen and Austin Richwine — has helped transform the program.
The 10th-ranked Lions (20-6) make their first Class 1A semistate appearance today against No. 3 Marquette Catholic (18-6) at Lafayette. But don't expect wide-eyed stares from the Liberty Christian bench.
This team has been mentally preparing for the opportunity to play in games of this magnitude since those bygone summer days in the park. Now it's a battle-tested squad with 12 victories in the past three postseasons that will attempt to send the program to its first state championship game.
"They know how to handle it better," Lions coach Jason Chappell said of his team's approach to high-pressure situations. "They have a more mature outlook on how to handle it. I've been watching them the last couple of weeks — the way they speak to each other and the way they speak to the public — and I've been really impressed."
Make no mistake, Liberty Christian will be tested.
Marquette Catholic is an athletic team that likes to run the court and get everyone involved, much like the Lions. The Blazers haven't lost since Jan. 22 and ride a 10-game winning streak into the semistate round.
Junior Ryan Fazekas — a 6-foot-8 shooter who leads the team with 13.3 points per game — already has verbally committed to play college basketball at Providence. And Marquette Catholic won its regional championship game by 30 points.