By George Bremer
The Herald Bulletin
---- — FRANKFORT — Redemption.
Liberty Christian's boys basketball team harbored the heartbreak of a fourth-quarter meltdown in the regional final for an entire year. On Saturday night at Case Arena, the 10th-ranked Lions erased a 14-point halftime deficit and defeated No. 7 Lafayette Central Catholic 65-55 for the first regional championship in program history.
"We finally got what we worked so hard for all these years," said Liberty Christian senior Preston Quinn, one of four players in double figures with 13 points. "It takes a team effort to win games like this, and we won as a team."
Indeed, the heroes came in waves.
Junior Vincent Phillips hit a 3-pointer to tie the game with 46 seconds left in the third quarter. Junior Chris Nunn's free throw with 7:32 remaining in the fourth quarter gave the Lions a 42-41 lead they never relinquinshed. Senior DeShon Gibbs scored five straight points to give the team some breathing room, and junior Quincey Hyatt helped it all stand up with three crucial steals in the fourth quarter.
"Quincey Hyatt, you could tell he was mad in the (halftime) locker room," Liberty Christian coach Jason Chappell said. "He didn't say a word, and he came out with fists of fury. I was so pleased with that. He took it out on the court."
The Lions (20-6) shot just 5-for-22 in the first half and trailed 29-15 at intermission. But they'd been down this road before. They trailed Monroe Central by 12 points in the first half of the sectional championship game and rallied to win 64-52.
So, rather than panic, they encouraged each other. And built off one another's energy.
Junior Franklin Nunn, who led the team with 14 points, went to the bench with his fourth foul with 1:39 remaining in the third quarter. When he returned with 3:50 to play in the fourth, the Lions had turned a four-point deficit into a five-point lead.
"We weathered the storm, just like we did last week," Nunn said. "We played good defense. In the second half, we played much better. We got our energy back."
Phillips, who finished with 11 points, returned to Liberty Christian this year after two high school seasons at Pendleton Heights. He smiled with pride shortly after cutting down his piece of the net and said he always knew he'd made the right choice.
As for the 3-pointer from the top of the key that tied the game?
"Just another shot," he said. "We've really become a family this year. Coach (Chappell) set the tone right from the start. Work hard, play hard and stay together. That's what we've tried to do."
Gibbs has seen the darker days of this program. He was around for the 5-16 season three years ago, and he appreciates the heights the Lions reached against Lafayette Central Catholic (16-9).
The senior scored nine of his 11 points in the fourth quarter. Six came on two dagger 3-pointers that brought the Lions' large fan base to a full roar.
"Tonight we all played great," Gibbs said. "I didn't think about (the pressure). (Assistant) Coach (Ryan) Jackson has been working with me a lot on my shot. He told me if I was open, shoot it. And that's what I did."
Fate couldn't resist one grand gesture.
When Lafayette Central Catholic called timeout after Gibbs' final 3-pointer, the Lions led 54-46 with 4:56 remaining. That's the same eight-point margin the Knights erased in the fourth quarter a year ago to win the regional crown.
As his players jogged to the sideline, Chappell turned to one of his assistants and said, "Should I remind them about the bracelets?"
Liberty Christian has worn yellow plastic wristbands all season with the 77-68 final score and the March 9, 2013, date etched on them in red ink. The assistant coach shook his head.
Now, finally, that loss is just a distant memory.
"They don't quit," Chappell said of his players. "There's no quit in these guys. They never give up. I'm so proud of these kids."