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Liberty, Centennial advance to girls basketball championship

Girls semifinals

KSNV coverage of girls state semifinal basketball, Feb. 24, 2011.

Liberty High senior Amanda Delgado scored 14 second-half points as the Patriots overcame a five-point halftime deficit to defeat Bishop Gorman 58-53 Thursday and advance to the Class 4A state championship.

In the other state semifinal game, Centennial, a perennial state power, advanced to the state championship with an 84-57 victory over Reed High.

Against Gorman, the Patriots trailed the entire first half but out-scored the Gaels 36-26 in the second half behind the strong play of Delgado, Alena Evans and Destiny Whitehead.

“The team trusted me to the put the ball in my hands down the stretch,” Delgado said. “I didn’t want to let my team down, so I gave it my all and made the plays when the opportunity presented itself.”

Liberty coach Quentin Lester said the win was “huge, especially with it being Gorman. With all the tradition they have over there, we’re just trying to put our program on the map. We worked hard for it, and it’s a testament to the kids and how much work they put in just to be here at this point.”

Evans finished with a game high 18 points on 8-of-11 shooting from the field. Delgado added 16 and Whitehead contributed 15, including the game-clinching free throws with less than a second remaining to give the Patriots the five-point winning margin.

Liberty trailed 39-37 late in the third quarter when Delgado began to find her groove. She scored the final four points of the third quarter to give the Patriots a 41-39 advantage heading to the final period.

The senior guard, who is committed to play at the University of Oregon, then opened the fourth quarter with a 3-point play to give the Patriots a 44-39 lead. Delgado finished with nine rebounds and four assists to go along with her 16 points.

Evans hit a layup to cap a 7-1 scoring run for Liberty to start the fourth quarter that gave the Patriots their largest lead of the game at 48-40.

“We came out the second half and accomplished what we needed to do,” Evans said. “For the state championship tomorrow, we have to go in there and play hard from the get-go and not try to play from the second half.”

Bishop Gorman answered back with an 8-2 scoring run, capped off by a Zhane Dikes layup to cut the Patriots lead to 50-48 midway through the fourth quarter.

The Patriots opened up a 55-49 lead with 1:42 left to play when Whitehead made one of two free throws. Whitehead finished seven of 10 from the free throw line, in addition to shooting five of 13 from the field.

Dikes sank a midrange jumper with 47 seconds remaining to cut the Liberty lead to 55-53. She recorded a double-double as she tallied 14 rebounds to go along with 14 points.

Following the Dikes jumper, Bishop Gorman forced a Liberty turnover with 39 seconds left to play.

On the ensuing possession, Bishop Gorman guard April Rivers missed a 3-pointer with 22 seconds remaining that would have given the Gaels a 1-point lead. Rivers finished tied with a team-high 14 points, with 13 of those coming in the first half.

Following the Rivers miss, Gaels forward Julia Ewalefo came up with the offensive rebound and drew a foul on the put-back attempt. Ewalefo missed both free throws, however, with Bishop Gorman trailing 55-53.

After Jade Washington made one of two free throws with 12.8 seconds remaining to give the Patriots a 56-53 lead, Liberty secured its state championship berth with a Whitehead steal and two free throws in the final second.

“There was a lot of motivation,” Evans said. “We wanted to show a lot of teams that we belonged. A lot of teams thought it was a fluke for us to get here, and we wanted to prove a point and make a statement.”

The Patriots will face the Bulldogs of Centennial in the 4A state championship Friday at 5 p.m. at Orleans Arena.

In Centennial’s semifinal game, Reed entered with an undefeated 22-0 record, but the Raiders were no match for the Bulldogs’ fearsome press and high-octane offense.

Centennial junior guard Shannon Brown knocked down a jumper at the end of the first quarter to give the Bulldogs a 23-9 lead. The Bulldogs led by double digits the remainder of the game.

Jada Brown hit a layup with three seconds left in the first half to give Centennial a 43-23 halftime advantage. Brown led the Bulldogs with a double-double, recording 26 points and 13 rebounds.

Centennial was also led on offense by sophomore Tamera Williams. The 5-foot-9 guard was second on the team in scoring with 15 points and led the Bulldogs with eight steals.

Centennial looks to capture its second state title in the last three years and sixth state crown in the last decade. The Bulldogs won four consecutive state championships from 2002-05 and won it again in 2009.

While the Bulldogs are perennial state champion contenders, the Patriots are in uncharted territory, reaching their first state championship game.

“Nobody in our program has ever been in this position before,” Lester said. “We’re giving our community, our school, our teachers, everybody something to cheer about.”

Friday night, the experience and grit of Centennial will match up against the youth and tenacity of Liberty with a state title hanging in the balance.

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