Hawks basketball advances to semis
Tyler Takeda/The Madera Tribune
Liberty’s Carson Stephens rises up to score two of his game-high 25 points in Friday’s playoff victory over Sierra Pacific.
After a dominating victory over Sierra Pacific-Hanford, the Liberty Hawks will face a second opponent in a row in the Div. IV Central Section playoffs who will be playing its first game.
The No. 2 seeded Hawks used a dominating second half to pull away for a 74-50 victory over Sierra Pacific on Friday, just two days after Sierra Pacific’s first round game with Yosemite was called off.
Next for the Hawks are North Sequoia League foe, Washington Union-Easton. After receiving a first-round bye, Washington Union was scheduled to play Golden Valley-Bakersfield, but that game was canceled and the Panthers cruise into the semifinals Wednesday against the Hawks at Liberty. Tip-off is set for 6 p.m.
Against the Golden Bears on Friday, the Hawks got a pair of 20-point games.
Carson Stephens led all scorers with 25 points to go with nine rebounds and four steals.
Ryan Hickman hit five 3-pointers for 20 points while Noah Scribner added 11 points.
The Hawks, who are only seven players deep, had to play most of three quarters with only six players after NSL Defensive Player of the Year Quaid Copher was hit with a pair of technical fouls in the second quarter and was disqualified from the contest.
“Quaid is the leader and the defensive player of the year in the league,” head coach Johnny Gonzales said. “The officials got in his head. Hopefully, we can get him for the next game.”
Little used Izzy Rivera came off the bench to fill in after Dante Ciritella picked up his fifth foul. Rivera scored a fourth quarter point for the Hawks.
“That was huge to play at the end,” Gonzales said. “A player that hardly plays got his name called. He made a free throw and we needed every point.”
The Hawks went on a 20-4 run in the third quarter and a 14-0 run in the fourth quarter to pull away for the win.
“They were huge runs for us,” Gonzales said. “Everybody had to keep their cool. That ended up helping us out. The way they started that fourth quarter was huge.”
The Hawks opened the game on a roll and scored 13 of the game’s first 14 points. Scribner scored on a drive. Then, Stephens scored on back-to-back drives to the hoop, the second by dribbling the ball behind his back for a 6-1 lead.
Two minutes later, Ciritella put back a miss and Stephens drove to the hoop on back-to-back possessions for a 12-1 lead. Scribner added a free throw.
Sierra Pacific scored the next seven points to cut the lead to 13-8 at the end of the first quarter.
The two teams combined for 40 points in the second quarter and the lead didn’t change for the Hawks.
Scribner opened the second quarter scoring with a free throw. After a Sierra Pacific 3-pointer, Scribner hit a step-back 3-pointer. A Sierra Pacific bucket led to a Hickman 3-pointer off a Stephens drive for a 20-13 lead.
Stephens came back with a pull-up 14-foot bank shot to get the lead to nine.
After a Bears 3-pointer, Stephens drove for a layup. Then, Stephens picked off a Bears’ pass and led Copher down the court. Copher got the ball for a layup and was fouled. He made the 3-point play for a 27-16 lead.
Sierra Pacific took advantage of three straight Liberty turnovers to score eight straight points to cut the lead to three.
Copher was called for a travel with two minutes left in the half and slightly argued the call and was hit with a technical foul and was hit with a second one moments later.
Sierra Pacific made a free throw and hit a 3-pointer to extend its run to 12-0 and take a 28-27 lead.
However, the Hawks closed out the first half with a 6-0 run. Hickman hit a seven-foot jumper and Max Vestal sank a 15-foot jumper. Vestel then stole the ball from Sierra Pacific and made a layup for a 33-28 halftime lead.
The Bears opened the second half with a 3-pointer to cut the lead to two.
Ciritella intercepted a Bears’ pass and converted it into a layup, but the Bears answered with a pair of free throws.
Then, the Hawks took off. Stephens hit a pair of mid-range jumpers to start the run.
Hickman made a free throw, Scribner drove in for a layup and Hickman answered a Sierra Pacific bucket with a 3-pointer. Hickman hit his second 3-pointer of the quarter for a 13-point lead.
After two Sierra Pacific free throws, Stephens sank a 3-pointer. With less than a minute left in the quarter, Hickman hit a 10-foot jumper and Ciritella made a layup for a 55-37 lead.
Sierra Pacific closed out the quarter with five straight points to cut the lead to 13 .
Hickman opened the fourth quarter with a 3-pointer. After a Sierra Pacific layup, Hickman found Ciritell down low for a layup, but Sierra Pacific answered with a layup to cut the lead to 14.
Then, the Hawks put the Bears in their wake and it began with two free throws from Vestal.
Off a tip from Vestal, Ciritella made a steal and fed it to Scribner, who found Stephens for a layup. Stephens added two free throws and Hickman sank a 3-pointer after it took four bounces on the rim. Stephens converted a steal into a layup for an 11-0 run to put the game out of reach.
After two minutes with neither team scoring, the Hawks extended the run to 14 with a free throw from Rivera and an offensive putback from Scribner for a a 74-46 lead.
Sierra Pacific closed out the game with an offensive putback and a layup, but the Hawks recorded a 24-point victory to open the playoffs.