By Heather Bremer
For The Herald Bulletin
FRANKFORT, Ind. —
The fourth quarter is a bad time to go cold.
The Liberty Christian Lions controlled the first 26 minutes of the Class A Regional 14 title game against the Central Catholic Knights. But an eight-point lead slipped away in the final six, and the Lions lost their second-straight regional final, 77-68, to a team they had beaten in their first regional appearance last year.
“We were in it. They hit some shots,” Lions head coach Jason Chappell said. “And I know they had to sit on that loss to us for a whole year, and they were ready. That’s a great team. I think that team has a really good shot a winning the state championship.”
Chappell wasn’t using hyperbole. The Knights, ranked sixth in the state, knocked off undefeated No. 1 Rockville in the morning session, cementing themselves as a favorite to win the title. But for 26 minutes, Liberty chipped away at that cement.
Central Catholic jumped out to a quick 5-0 lead. Junior Preston Quinn reversed the trend, hitting three straights jumpers and a free throw to push Liberty in front 7-5. The Lions closed out the quarter on a 16-4 run and led 16-9.
It took just two minutes for the Knights to close within two in the second. They even jumped ahead by one with 1:10 to go. But a 3 from Chris Nunn, who led Liberty with 22 points, and buzzer-beating heave from Quinn, who scored 20, put the Lions back in front 34-31 at the half.
The margin was the same at the end of three quarters with Liberty clinging to a 52-49 lead. Nunn became an unstoppable beast in the period, knocking down 12 points during the stretch.
The Lions roared into the fourth with two free throws from Quinn and a monster 3-pointer from senior Thatcher Rouse. Liberty led 57-49 and could taste their school’s first regional basketball title.
If only it weren’t for that last six minutes.
Liberty didn’t score for the next three minutes, and the Knight didn’t do anything but. By the time Rouse made a bucket, the Lions were down 60-59 and momentum had shifted firmly to Central Catholic’s corner. The Knights took advantage of multiple second-chance shots and hit their free throws down the stretch, earning the victory and redemption for their first-round regional loss to the Lions last year.
“They hit some shots tonight, some incredible shots,” Chappell said. “Our weakness was our rebounding. They got a ton of offensive rebounds.”
A ton equates more offensive rebounds for the Knights (16) than Liberty had total rebounds in the game (14). But Chappell, still emotional from his postgame talk with his players, wasn’t one to dwell on the night’s mistakes.
“You look at our team from where we were this summer, and where we were at the beginning of the year to where we are now,” Chappell said. “It’s not just basketball. It’s their growth as human beings I’m probably more proud of.”