By Jerry Holsworth - firstname.lastname@example.org
NOKESVILLE -- Liberty opened up the Evergreen District tournament final on Saturday with a 17-3 run against Warren County and the Wildcats were never able to recover, losing to the Eagles 69-54.
The win gives the Eagles a bye on Tuesday in the first round of the Region II playoffs. Warren County will play at Kettle Run on Tuesday in the Region II, Division 3 quarterfinals.
"Our guys were saying in the locker room before the game that we really needed to win this game so that we can get in the gym and get a week's worth of practices before our first regional game," Eagles coach Pat Frazer said. "That showed a lot of maturity for a bunch of high school kids."
Warren County tried to use a zone defense to neutralize the Liberty quick aggressive offense, but the Eagles were able to make crisp, accurate passes inside the Wildcat zone which resulted in several easy baskets.
"Liberty is the most athletic team we've faced this year," Warren County coach Vernon Mathews said. "We just didn't match up with them in intensity to start the game and that really hurt us. It just took too much energy to get back into the game after we let them get ahead like that."
Aaron Porter proved to be the Eagles' biggest weapon offensively throughout the game. The Liberty guard was also the driving force behind the Eagles' early lead, scoring seven of his game-high 23 points in the first eight minutes of play.
"I was really proud of the way we came out and started the game," Frazer said. "Both teams are just getting back into the gym after all of that snow. We knew that Warren County would come out loose and ready to play, and we knew that at some point in the game they'd make it close. We knew we needed to start the game on a positive note to be able to hold them off."
Frazer's words proved to be prophetic. After Liberty built a big lead in the first four minutes of play, the Wildcats settled down and began a slow but steady assault on the Eagles' lead.
With Liberty leading 21-10 heading into the second quarter, Wildcats guard Jon Roof started to come alive from behind the 3-point line, helping narrow the deficit. The Warren County senior nailed three 3-pointers over the final moments of the first quarter and the second quarter and finished the first half with 12 of his 15 points on the night.
Despite Roof's heroics, the Wildcats were only able to get within seven points of the Eagles, 31-24, with 1:52 left in the second quarter. Liberty responded to the Warren County run with a 4-0 run of their own over the final minute of the half and led 35-24 at intermission.
The Wildcats, however, didn't panic and scored the first four points of the second half. Unfortunately for Warren County, after that the Eagles kept matching the Wildcats basket for basket over the next seven minutes and led 49-36 with eight minutes to play.
As he did to begin the game, Porter emerged in the final period to make certain Warren County would not stage a late run to get the upset. Porter scored 11 points in the quarter to seal the win.
Despite the loss, Mathews saw a lot of positives from his team's performance.
"Liberty is exactly the kind of team that we need to face at this point in the season," Mathews said. "As I said, they're very athletic, and a tough opponent. We never quit against them and that's the attitude we need to make a run in the regionals."
Besides Roof, Damian Caison had a good night for Warren County, scoring 14 points. Logan Hibbs also scored in double figures for the Wildcats with 10.
In addition to Porter, Liberty had three players who scored in double figures. Andrew Mighty had 12, Tyler Johnson had 10, and Darren Lee scored 10 for the Eagles.