Wendy Alexander/The Madera Tribune
Members of the Liberty High School student body rushes the court to celebrate with the boys basketball team after an 80-73 victory over the defending two-time Valley Champions, California City, in the Div. V semifinals Wednesday.
Although the Div. V semifinal boys basketball game went into overtime, the Liberty Hawks treated it like any other quarter.
The top-seeded Hawks scored 16 points in the third, fourth and overtime for an 80-73 victory over No. 4 California City, the reigning two-time Div. V Valley Champions, Wednesday at Liberty.
“Coming back home and taking my guys to the Valley Championship is very exciting,” Liberty standout Makani Whiteside said. “It feels great. This isn’t the last game for us.
“It feels great, especially losing to them at California City and losing in the second round last year,” senior Gary Afonin said. “It feels amazing.”
“It’s the greatest feeling, ever, besides my children and wedding,” head coach Johnny Gonzales said. “The kids deserved it and played their tales off tonight. They earned this win. I’m really proud of them.”
Whiteside led the Hawks with 32 points and pulled down 10 rebounds to send Liberty to its first-ever basketball Valley Championship game.
“This tops the other win (in the quarterfinals),” Whiteside said. “It’s a way better win. I was frustrated at first. In overtime, we took it as fuel that we should have closed it out in the fourth quarter. In overtime, we did what we had to do.”
Logan Stephens stepped up with two huge 3-pointers in overtime and scored 17 points with three other 3-pointers.
“We put in so much work and my teammates tell me every night to shoot,” he said. “The last two games, I’ve been struggling. My teammates gave me the confidence and, luckily, I was able to knock them in tonight. It feels amazing. My first goal after I came back to do the best with my teammates and get a Valley. We have a chance Friday night.”
“Logan was feeling it tonight,” Gonzales said. “The first 3-pointer went in, I knew he was feeling it. He and Makani, in overtime, did a great job. Gary did a great job attacking the basket.”
The Hawks will next play a familiar foe — Firebaugh, the No. 3 seed. The Hawks lost to Firebaugh on Dec. 15 in the Hawks Classic, 61-59. However, Liberty came back to defeat the Eagles 71-66 at Super Saturday at Edison on Jan. 19.
Afonin added 11 points with seven rebounds while Johnny Levine and Colton Cardoza added eight points each. Levine and Quaid Copher pulled down six rebounds while Cardoza had five.
“I felt like we played better team basketball, passing the ball more,” Afonin said. “We played good defense and it wins games.”
“It took us a while to learn how to play together with all the new players,” Gonzales said. “At the end, this is what it comes down to, everyone coming together. I get a little emotional. A year ago, today, my mom only had a month to live her life. I wasn’t able to give it all my effort as a head coach last year. This year, I felt like we did enough and with her help tonight, we’re going to Selland Arena.”
While seven players scored for the Hawks, California City’s main scoring came from Madetoneyo Mays and Cameron Jarmon. The duo combined for 53 points with Jarmon leading all scorers with 35 points. They accounted for 73 percent of the Ravens’ scoring.
Mays scored nine of his team’s 18 points in the first quarter for an 18-15 lead. Whiteside added five points, but Levine scored four and the Hawks stayed within reach.
Whiteside opened the second quarter with a layup while Stephens hit a 3-pointer and Levine put back a missed shot for a 22-18 lead and a 9-0 run.
After a Jarmon layup, Whiteside made two free throws while Afonin went coast-to-coast with a rebound and a layup. Whiteside pulled down a rebound and found Nathanael Samarin with a long pass for a layup for a 15-2 run and a 28-20 lead.
Afonin found Levine for a layup to open the lead to 10.
Jarmon scored the next eight points for the Ravens for an 8-0 run and cut the lead to two.
Whiteside closed out the first half scoring with an up-and-under layup for a 32-28 lead.
California City opened the second half with three straight points to cut Liberty’s lead to one. Afonin made a free throw and the Ravens added another.
Afonin made another free throw, but Jarmon made a layup to tie the score at 34. After a Stephens free throw, Jarmon made another layup to reclaim the lead.
Whiteside made a free throw for the lead, but California City made a layup for a 38-37 lead.
After an offensive rebound from Cardoza, Whiteside found Samarin for a layup. Then, the two teams exchanged seven straight possessions scoring.
Whiteside hit two short jumpers and a 15-footer while Stephens hit a 3-pointer for a 48-45 lead heading into the fourth quarter.
Afonin made a layup and Stephens made a 3-pointer for a 53-47 lead. The Ravens scored five straight points to cut the lead to one.
Whiteside made two free throws, but California City made two free throws and a layup.
Whiteside found Cardoza for a layup. Then, after a Whiteside missed shot, California City tried to save the ball from going out of bounds and it went right to the hands of Cardoza for a steal and he made a quick layup for a 59-56 lead.
After a Jarmon layup, Whiteside made two free throws with 1:59 left for a three-point lead.
The Ravens scored on a putback, but Afonin made a free throw for a 62-60 lead with 1:04 left in regulation. Jarmon drove for a layup, but Whiteside drove for a layup with 30 seconds left. However, Jarmon made another layup with 20 seconds left to tie the game at 64.
Whiteside tried to get the win and drove in for a jumper. He missed a 10-foot jumper. He got the offensive rebound, but missed the putback. He put back the miss, but it came after the final buzzer.
In overtime, Whiteside made two free throws to open the scoring. After a Mays layup tied the game, Whiteside made a layup for a two-point lead. Afonin made a free throw, but the Ravens answered with a layup for a 69-68 Liberty lead.
The Hawks then went on a 9-1 run to take control of the game. Stephens hit a 3-pointer with two minutes left. Quentin Stewart forced a jump ball and Liberty gained possession. Stephens then hit another 3-pointer from 20-feet out for a 75-68 lead.
Whiteside added a free throw to open an eight-point lead. After a California City free throw, Whiteside made two more for a 78-69 lead with 50.9 seconds left.
California City made a layup, but the Hawks kept the ball away from the Ravens before Afonin was fouled with 10.6 seconds left in overtime. He sank both free throws and the Ravens added a last second free throw for the 80-73 victory.