Wendy Alexander/The Madera Tribune
Liberty’s Nathanael Samarin drives the lane for a bucket against Ceres in the CIF State Div. V first-round playoff game Tuesday at Liberty.
The Liberty Hawks boys basketball team ended its historic season with a 79-66 loss against the Nueva School from San Mateo.
It was a season in which the Hawks set a record for the most wins in school history and secured the program’s first ever Valley Championship.
In the first round of the Div. V CIF State Championship against Nueva on Tuesday, the history season looked like it would continue early.
The Mavericks, however, overcame a sluggish first half to walk away with the win and end the Hawks’ season.
“We had a great season,” Liberty head coach Johnny Gonzales said. “I feel bad that it had to end tonight, but I’m still proud of the boys and their effort.”
Liberty’s Makani Whiteside was having his usual strong performance early in the game. The senior made his long-range shots in the first half and added a pair of dunks which electrified the packed house at Liberty.
In the second half, however, the Mavericks hounded Whiteside every time he touched the ball.
“First half, they were in a regular 2-3, but coming out in the second half, they changed it up,” Whiteside said. “They extended it. They doubled, tripled teamed me. We tried to adjust, but by the time we did it was too late.”
The Hawks had a 13-point lead in the second quarter, but the Mavericks made a run of their own to cut the deficit to single digits in the final minute of the first half.
Whiteside’s jumper at the buzzer then gave the Hawks a 35-25 lead at halftime.
The Hawks’ lead evaporated for good halfway through the third quarter when senior Kyle McGraw knocked down a pair of free throws.
McGraw punished the Hawks all night, ending the game with 28 points. Freshman Connor McGraw also had a major contribution in the win with 20 points.
“In that second half, they came out firing,” Gonzales said. “They got stops and we weren’t able to bounce back.”
After trailing by 18 at the end of the third quarter, the Hawks cut the lead to 10 with 35 seconds left on a 3-pointer by Nathanael Samarin. But that would be as close as they would get. The Mavericks only had to knock down their free throws at that point to seal the win.
“We made history,” Whiteside said. “We did things the school has never done before. Ended in the state playoffs, but to even get to the state playoffs is a blessing.”
Whiteside was forced to give up the ball in second half with multiple defenders covering him. He finished the game with 27 points, 18 of those coming in the first half.
“They knew about Makani,” Gonzales said. “They knew he was our guy. They were doubling up.”
The Hawks made a comeback effort in the fourth quarter with help from the bench. Johnny Levine led that effort with seven points in the fourth quarter.
“Levine brings a lot of energy,” Gonzales said. “He had some steals, got some free throws and knocked them down.”
The Hawks will now look to build on the success they had this season.
“The spring league starts in two weeks. There’s no time for rest. It’s time to get back in the gym,” Gonzales said. “No need for them to keep their head down. They get to cherish this forever.”