By George Bremer
The Herald Bulletin
---- — ANDERSON — Here's a thought that could send shivers through the ranks of Class 1A boys basketball programs across the state: Liberty Christian might just be getting started.
The Lions completed the best postseason run in school history Saturday with a 72-61 loss against Marquette Catholic in the semistate at Lafayette Jeff. It was the program's first appearance in the state's Final Four, and it came on the heels of a third straight sectional title and a second consecutive 20-win season.
Add in the fact Liberty Christian returns four starters — and five of its top eight scorers overall — next season, and there's a rock-solid foundation upon which to build.
"This puts us on the map, basically," Lions alumnus Austin Castor said just outside the locker room following the semistate defeat. "People will know Liberty's coming for them next year, no question."
Castor was a part of sectional championship teams in 2012 and 2013 that came on the heels of four straight losing seasons. He's now competing for the track team at Anderson University, but like many in Liberty Christian's extended family his heart remains with the Red and Vegas Gold.
Preston Quinn will know the feeling soon. He played his last game for the Lions against Marquette Catholic and was a part of all three sectional championship teams. Even through the heartache of fresh defeat, he looked at the returning talent with a healthy dose of optimism.
"They definitely have a shot at getting this far again and winning it next year," Quinn said. "They definitely have a bright future."
That future could include a position change for junior point guard Chris Nunn.
The team's second-leading scorer and leader in steals and assists could move to the shooting guard role next year, freeing him to showcase new aspects of the ability that has multiple Division I college programs interested in his services.
Other returnees' roles are more concrete.
Sophomore Franklin Nunn will be back after besting his cousin for team-high scoring honors by just four points this season. Junior Quincey Hyatt returns to wreak havoc in the paint, and junior Vincent Phillips is a threat in the post and from the perimeter.
They join Chris Nunn to form the leadership of next year's team.
"We do have a pretty good core," Chris Nunn said. "And we've got some more talent coming in."
Eighth-grade sharpshooter Joshua Tufts is at the top of list. His brother Isaiah is among the returnees from the semistate squad, and he's expected to make an impact as a freshman.
There also are whispers about potential transfers, but it's always difficult to predict the winds of change.
Regardless of what the spring and summer bring, Liberty Christian coach Jason Chappell is confident in the troops he'll take into battle.
"Who knows who's going to show up next year?" he said. "But the nucleus coming back really bodes well for us."
So does the program's steady upward progression. From five wins in 2011 to a regional championship last week, it's been a long road for the Lions.
Senior DeShon Gibbs has watched that journey play out, and he had tears in his eyes following the loss to Marquette Catholic. But he has no doubt about where the Lions' road ultimately will end.
The bar has risen for future generations.
"It's tough," he said. "It hurts. But this is just the beginning for Liberty. I know the upcoming classes are definitely going to be hungry to take advantage of the opportunity, and we'll be back. Liberty will get the state championship."