By George Bremer
The Herald Bulletin
ANDERSON, Ind. — Like all good legends, this one is still growing.
Liberty Christian won its first boys basketball regional championship Saturday by scoring 50 points in the second half, overcoming a 14-point halftime deficit and exorcising the ghosts of a fourth-quarter collapse in last year's final against the same Lafayette Central Catholic team.
The night was filled with heroes — seen and unseen — and it's taking awhile for it all to sink in.
Head coach and athletic director Jason Chappell celebrated his birthday Monday at the doctor's office, receiving treatment for strep throat. But little of his excitement had been drained.
"I just had too much fun this weekend," he joked during a phone interview. "But I'll take that every time."
No. 10 Liberty Christian (20-6) quickly got back to work preparing for its Class 1A semistate battle against third-ranked Marquette Catholic (18-6). The Lions will travel to practice at Lafayette Jeff — the semistate host — on Tuesday, and their thoughts have again turned toward a journey they hope will end in two weeks at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
But memories of that magical regional final are hard to shake.
Liberty Christian trailed 29-15 at halftime and had shot just 5-for-22 from the field. In the second half, the Lions shot 17-for-27 and outscored the Knights by 24 points.
They tied the game with 46 seconds remaining in the third quarter and took the lead for good on a free throw less than one minute into the fourth. Liberty Christian scored just six points in the paint against a stout Lafayette Central Catholic defense in the first half. After intermission, they scored 26.
Junior Quincey Hyatt scored all eight of his points in the second half, to go along with five rebounds and three steals. He made so many plays in such short succession, some suspected divine intervention was at work.
"Somebody told me they thought the Holy Ghost was moving through Quincey Hyatt the way he was playing," Chappell said. "It wasn't just us. God was working through that second half. And that's why this team is special. He's blessed us with amazing talent and amazing kids. I don't know what he has planned for us next."
But Chappell can't wait to find out.
At a pep rally after the team returned home to the Lions' Den on Saturday night, somebody mentioned they might well have witnessed the best half of basketball ever played by Liberty Christian.
Chappell agreed with a laugh but quickly added that it might have been preceded by the worst.
The Lions had similar early struggles during the sectional championship game against Monroe Central, falling behind by 12 points in the second quarter before rallying for their third straight title.
Chappell can't help but envision what it might be like when his team discovers how to smooth over the rough spots.
"Imagine how great it could be if we could piece together four quarters like that second half," he said.
As the team advances in the postseason, the demands surrounding it increase. There will be TV cameras at Wednesday's practice. Everyone, it seems, wants to hear the Lions' story.
Chappell and his players are happy to share.
It's about a small school that has banded together around the principles of faith and family. Liberty Christian believed in itself when few others did, and the rewards for that belief are now pouring in.
"We're in the final four," Chappell said, pausing afterward as though hearing himself speak the words somehow made them real. "We're one of the top four teams in our class. That's pretty big for our school."