Las Vegas Sun

September 19, 2018

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Game of the Year: Centennial vs. Liberty girls’ basketball state championship

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Ray Brewer / Las Vegas Sun

Centennial senior Justice Ethridge is lifted up by teammates after winning a fourth straight state championship in overtime against Liberty, Friday, Feb. 23, 2018, at the Lawlor Events Center in Reno.

The nationally ranked Centennial High girls’ basketball team was expected to build a double-digit lead in the state championship game. And yet, it was Sunrise Region champion Liberty with a 15-point advantage heading into the fourth quarter. The final minutes produced the most dramatic moment of the high school season.

The Bulldogs hit three 3-pointers in the final 40 seconds, including Jade Thomas’ shot from the corner at the regulation buzzer to force overtime. If she’d missed, the Bulldogs’ streak of championships would have ended at three. In overtime, Centennial pulled away for a 74-65 win.

Justice Ethridge, the state player of the year who is known for her 3-point shooting, went more than two quarters without making a long-range shot. But she finally connected early in the fourth quarter. “That started the comeback,” she says. “That’s when I knew we had a chance.”

Three of Centennial’s stars, including Ethridge and junior point guard Melanie Isbell, fouled out before overtime started. “But our bench players came out of their comfort zone and hit some big shots for us,” Isbell says.

The Centennial fourth-quarter rally halted Liberty’s momentum. In overtime, Centennial continued its strong play by scoring the initial 11 points.

“We started getting to the basket,” says Ethridge, who finished with a team-best 22 points and was carried off the floor on her teammates’ shoulders. And, of course, “We started hitting our 3s.”

This story originally appeared in the Las Vegas Weekly.