Hawks come up short in playoff semifinals
Wendy Alexander/The Madera Tribune
Liberty’s Noah Scribner goes up for a shot during Tuesday’s playoff loss to Washington Union.
Coming into this weird and unpredictable season, the Liberty Hawks boys basketball team and head coach Johnny Gonzales had one goal in mind — to get back to the championship game. It wasn’t that long ago that Gonzalez and his men found themselves at the mountaintop.
But, after Tuesday’s 64-49 loss to Washington Union-Easton at home in the quarterfinals of the Div. IV playoffs, the Hawks will miss out on this year’s big occasion, but still have a shot at a State Championship as Liberty qualified after being one of the top teams in the area.
“They gave it their all that second half, but it just didn’t fall for us tonight. Our shots weren’t falling,” Gonzalez said. “The effort was there as it has been all season, but the shots weren’t falling tonight.”
Washington Union was the opposite for most of the game. Led by Jayden Green, who had 28 points, and Daylen Wood, who had 18, including nine in the third quarter in a game changing run for both teams.
Wood and Liberty’s Carson Stephens were trading three-point shots in the third quarter to the delight of both crowds. Wood was utilizing his spot-up ability, while Stephens took his defender head on. The Hawks’ standout utilized his frame and separation to hit not one, but three big three-point shots, including four points from the charity stripe.
Stephens backed down his defender before pulling up right in his face. Stephens chipped in 21 points, but Washington Union put the heat on in the second half. Multi-sport athlete Quaid Copher finished the game with 12 points and Noah Scribner had nine.
Both the Hawks and Panthers opened the game on even terms as the first quarter buzzer rang to a 13-13 ball game. It was a team effort for Liberty as Scribner pitched in four points including what could have been an and-one attempt after putting in the shot, plus the foul.
Stephens went to the line for the first time of the night in the first quarter, knocking down both shots as well as a two-point shot and Copher and Vestal chipped in a three pointer and a layup, respectively.
The Hawks were moving the ball and getting good looks early on, but the Panthers were hanging in there.
Green scored nine points of his own, including a three pointer, in a strong initial start for the Panthers.
His performance foreshadowed a second-quarter run that Liberty never recovered from.
The Washington Union standout torched Liberty with eight points in the quarter, including two 3-pointers. Add in five points from Woods and Washington Union jumped out to a marginal lead over Liberty.
Scribner took it upon himself in the second quarter to be more physical inside the paint. The Hawk got to the line twice, converting three of the four shots. Copher knocked down a timely three and Ryan Hickman added a three-point shot of his own, but the Hawks found themselves down 30-24 heading into the halftime break.
After an 11-point quarter, the Hawks were down and never fully recovered.
However, Gonzales and his championship-level coaching staff lit a fire under the Hawks who came out and put on their best quarter of the afternoon with 17 points.
However, so did the Panthers. Washington Union scored 23 points to outscore the Hawks.
Stephens and Woods battled it out trading 3-pointer after 3-pointer. The Panther was able to find room in the corner and with a smooth release to knock down three shots in a row.
Liberty’s Stephens wasn’t fazed as he marched down the court and knocked one back in. Copher added two layups as his strength and athleticism overwhelmed Washington Union, but it wasn’t enough as not only was Wood on fire, but so was Green.
Green scored two from the charity stripe and two jump shots for six in the quarter. Luckily, he was stymied on the perimeter by the Hawks’ defense but the damage was done. Washington Union ended the quarter up 53-41.
The Hawks never gave in and battled until the final whistle, but were unable to mount a comeback. The Hawks still have something to play for as a State Championship is still in the cards.