Wendy Alexander/The Madera Tribune
Liberty’s Leeiasa Whetsel goes up for two of her game-high 30 points in Monday’s win.
When the Liberty Hawks girls basketball team needed someone to step up, they looked for Leeasia Whetsel and more often than not she did in a 49-48 overtime victory over the Mendota Aztecs.
Whetsel led all scorers Monday night with 30 points while pulling down 12 rebounds, seven on the offensive boards. She also had seven steals and had her hand in many others.
“I wish I could have four more Leeasias,” first-year head coach Ryan Reed said. “I have confidence in all of my players, but I feel more confident when Leeasia has the ball. She’s so fast and quick that it really helps us on both sides of the court.”
The Hawks trailed by six at the half, but eventually tied the game. Mendota went on a 8-0 run to open the fourth quarter and the Hawks looked like they were done. Whetsel scored 14 of Liberty’s 16 fourth quarter points, including two free throws with 33.3 seconds left in the game to tie the score.
“I’m trying to change the attitude,” Reed said. “I want the girls to have a never-say-die attitude and we did that tonight. I would have taken this game if we lost, but it’s even better with the win. We did well defensively when we went to a full-court press. We forced them to make mistakes and we forced them to foul, which sent us to the line.
Although the Hawks shot just 43 percent from the free throw line, they shot 35 free throws. Three Mendota players fouled out, including leading scorer April Rodriguez, who scored a team-high 19 points, including eight of the team’s 12 points in the fourth quarter.
“I told my players that girls basketball is decided by three things — turnovers, making layups and making free throws,” Reed said. “If we can win two of those three, we have a good chance at winning games.”
Liberty won the free throw battle (18-8 in makes) and the turnover battled (40-34) and also made their layups when it counted.
Mendota took the early 4-0 lead to open the game. Then, the Hawks closed the first quarter on an 8-0 run, but it took more than five minutes to complete.
Whetsel got the Hawks on the scoreboard turning a steal into a layup. She made another layup with two minutes left in the quarter and then put back a missed shot to give the Hawks a 6-4 lead.
With less than 10 seconds left in the quarter, Whetsel found Brianna Melgoza for a layup and an 8-4 first quarter lead.
After Mendota cut the lead to one with a 3-pointer, Camille Vestal made a free throw, Whetsel tuned another steal into a layup and Melgoza found Marissa Ortiz for a layup for a 13-7 Liberty lead.
However, the Aztecs scored the next nine points, taking advantage of four turnovers for a 16-13 lead.
Mendota scored six straight points before Kassidy Afonin made a free throw for the Hawks with 21.6 seconds left in the half for a 22-16 Aztecs’ lead.
Liberty scored the first seven points of the second half. Whetsel found Melgoza for a layup. Whetsel made a free throw and then put back her own miss on the second free throw. Lizzie Stinson hit a 10-foot jumper and Liberty led 23-22.
The Aztecs hit a 3-pointer to reclaim the lead, but the Hawks got a Whetsel free throw and Melgoza calmly hit a 15-foot jumper for a 26-25 lead.
Mendota scored on a layup, but Melgoza made a free throw to tie the score.
Two Liberty turnovers led to four Aztec points and a 31-27 third quarter lead.
The Aztecs hit a 3-pointer and made a free throw to open the fourth quarter. After a Meg Pentorali layup, Mendota hit another 3-pointer for a 38-29 lead with less than six minutes left in regulation.
Whetsel then helped lead a 10-1 run to tie the game at 39. She started the run with a pair of free throws. After a free throw from Rodriguez, Liberty scored on three straight coast-to-coast layups. Whetsel scored off a steal, Melgoza scored off a rebound and Whetsel scored off a rebound. Then, Melgoza got a defensive rebound and Whetsel, on the fast break, stopped to let the defenders go by and scored on a short bucket to tie the score with two minutes left.
After a missed free throw, Whetsel went coast-to-coast with a rebound to give Liberty the lead. Rodriguez made two layups and made a layup to give Mendota a 43-41 lead with less than a minute left in the game.
Whetsel made two free throws with 33.3 seconds left to tie the score. Liberty had two more chances to win the game, but threw out of bounds both times to send the game into overtime.
Rodriguez and Alexis Escobedo opened the overtime scoring with two points each for a 47-43 Mendota lead.
Melgoza made two free throws to cut the lead to two. Then, Whetsel pulled down a rebound and beat the Aztecs down the court for a layup to tie the game with 1:31 left.
Afonin made a free throw, but Mendota answered with 49.6 seconds left.
With 32.3 seconds left, Vestal made a free throw for a 49-48 lead. Whetsel got the offensive rebound on the miss, but traveled.
Mendota missed a three-pointer on its next possession. Liberty tried to hold onto the ball to end the game, but Mendota forced back-to-back jump balls to give themselves possession with 6.4 seconds left.
The Aztecs tried a desperation 3-pointer, but Afonin got a hand on the ball and it fell harmlessly to the court to end the game.