By TED RADICK
In staff meetings and practices this week, Liberty-Benton girls basketball coach Nate Irwin tried to figure out how Arlington would attack his team.
“We went back and fourth on what we thought he would try to do to us, the things he could do to try and exploit some of our weaknesses,” Irwin said of Arlington coach Seth Newlove. “The way they came out in the first half was not in my top three or four, I’ll be honest. It didn’t cross my mind.”
Arlington played the first half in a stall offense, taking just three shots. Three Liberty-Benton baskets early in the third quarter broke things open, and the Eagles stretched an 8-4 halftime lead into a 35-10 victory to wrap up an outright Blanchard Valley Conference championship.
The Eagles (17-1), ranked sixth in the latest Associated Press Division III poll, completed a perfect 9-0 run through the BVC and stretched their win streak to 17 games.
Arlington fell to 12-6, 6-3 BVC.
“It was a unique strategy, it kept it close for a half, but in the third quarter we hit some shots to extend our lead and forced them to come out and guard us a little more,” Irwin said.
Newlove’s idea was to keep the game within a basket or two heading into the late going.
“I think the strategy in the first half worked great,” he said. “If you tell me we’re only down four points at halftime, whether it’s 35-31 or 8-4, I could care less about that. I wanted to be up or down five points going into the fourth quarter.
“I was happy down 8-4 at half. That’s where we wanted it. The girls believed in the strategy, I believed in it and a bad start to the third quarter made us have to play. And you saw what happened.”
Rachel Myers opened the third quarter with a pair of layups for L-B. Carrie Reynolds knocked down a 3-pointer moments later, and the Eagles led 15-4 midway through the third quarter.
“It was a different pace for us, we didn’t get to go out and play a real basketball game,” Reynolds said. “But we adjusted to it, and everything worked out.”
Irwin credited his players for keeping their composure when possessions were at a premium.
“You’re all amped up, and you come out and you stand,” he said. “Our girls hit baskets, and there’s a little more pressure on them when it’s 8-4. Our girls didn’t panic, didn’t get rattled and I was extremely proud of our effort.”
Reynolds, who finished with 10 points, hit a 3-pointer at the third quarter buzzer and Myers, who had a game-high 16 points, started the fourth quarter with a midrange jumper. That put the Eagles up 25-8.
“If you give Rachel that many opportunities, she’s going to hurt you,” Newlove said. “That’s a girl that has spent hours and hours in the gym, and she deserves all the awards she’s going to get. She has made herself one of the best basketball players our league has ever had.”
Liberty-Benton got contributions from its other seniors as well. Reynolds went 3 of 4 from the floor and hit both of her 3-point attempts, and 5-foot-7 Kayla Trevino held her own in the post when Lauren Kotey spent extended periods on the bench with foul trouble.
“You’d think when we got Kotey in foul trouble we could do some things inside,” Newlove said. “They cover up really well and don’t give you a lot of places to shoot it. When we did shoot it, we struggled. We missed some easy shots in the third quarter.”
“Kayla was definitely our defensive MVP tonight,” Irwin said. “They attacked right at Lauren and got her in foul trouble, and they continued to attack at Kayla. She played some huge minutes for us. Things could have gotten interesting if she wasn’t able to defend in the post.”
The league title is a special one for L-B’s three seniors.
“It was our first goal on the list for our senior year, as far as team goals go,” Trevino said. “Step one is complete, so we need to go on from here.”
“To be 9-0, in our senior year, feels great,” Reynolds said. “It’s a great accomplishment.”
“It’s awesome to win the win the league, but to go 9-0 is even more of an accomplishment,” Myers said. “It feels even better.”
Sierra Nichols hit her first two field-goal attempts early in the game and led Arlington with five points.
The Red Devils made just 1 of 16 shots after taking a 4-2 lead late in the first quarter. Whitney Dodds had a team-best four rebounds.
Nicolette DeVincentis had seven points for L-B, and Jensen Hiegel grabbed a game-high five rebounds.
ARLINGTON (12-6, 6-3 BVC)
H. Johnson 0-1–1, Heaster 0-2–2, Dodds 0-0–0, Mains 1-0–2, Dillon 0-0–0, Nichols 2-1–5, M. Johnson 0-1–1, Schmehl 0-0–0, McMath 0-0–0, Webb 0-0–0, Alexander 0-0–0. TOTALS: 3-18 4-10–10.
LIBERTY-BENTON (17-1, 9-0 BVC)
Kotey 0-0–0, Myers 6-3–16, Hiegel 0-2–2, DeVincentis 2-2–7, Reynolds 3-2–10, Trevino 0-0–0.
TOTALS: 11-24 9-11–35.
Arlington 4 0 4 2 — 10
Liberty-Benton 5 3 14 13 — 35
3-POINT GOALS: Arlington 0-6, Liberty-Benton 4-9 (Reynolds 2, Myers, DeVincentis).
REBOUNDS: Arlington 13 (Dodds 4), Liberty-Benton 18 (Hiegel 5).
TURNOVERS: Arlington 9, Liberty-Benton 5.
JUNIOR VARSITY: Arlington, 21-13.
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