By MICHAEL BURWELL
Liberty-Benton’s rampage through the Blanchard Valley Conference continued on Thursday.
And the defending league champs clinched a share of the league title in the process.
Liberty-Benton turned a nine-point halftime lead over North Baltimore into a blowout as the state-ranked Eagles used a 58-15 second half advantage to beat the Tigers 96-44 at Liberty-Benton.
“We know we’re going to get everybody’s best effort, especially within our league,” Liberty-Benton coach Nate Irwin said. “There’s a lot of rivalry games out there and we know we’re going to get everybody’s best effort and we’ve had a great BVC season for our first 10 games and we’ve been able to pull away against some pretty good teams.
“Give our girls a ton of credit, they come ready to play and they really do want to achieve that goal and they’re putting their mind to it and they’re playing with a mission. It’s nice to see it all come together.”
Liberty-Benton (19-1, 10-0 BVC), ranked No. 7 in the latest Division III Associated Press poll, earned a share of its 19th BVC title and won its 27th-straight league game. The Eagles have won nine of their 10 BVC games this season by 27 or more points, with their average margin of victory being 42.4 points per game.
Liberty-Benton can clinch the outright title with a win over McComb (7-13, 4-6 BVC) on Thursday at L-B. Leipsic, which beat Cory-Rawson 57-21 on Thursday, is one game behind Liberty-Benton in the league at 9-1.
“We’re extremely happy to be where we’re at now. We’ve got a one-game lead with one to go, but we talked about it in the locker room just now; we’re not satisfied,” Irwin said. “When you’re a young kid, they want you to share but when it comes to winning league titles, you don’t really want to share so our girls will be really excited next Thursday, playing on our home court, senior night, chance to clinch an outright BVC title.”
Four Liberty-Benton players scored in double figures. Caitlin Elseser (6-foot-3 sophomore) had 17 points and a team-high seven rebounds, while junior guard Sammy Shardo also had 17 points.
Savanah Richards chipped in 15 points, 11 assists, six rebounds and three steals while Abby Reynolds came off the bench to drain five 3-pointers and score 15 points.
The Eagles shot a blistering 57 percent (36 of 63) from the floor, including 50 percent (13 of 26) from 3-point range.
Seven Liberty-Benton players made a 3-pointer.
“It’s nearly impossible, honestly. If they’re going to shoot it that high of a percentage, there’s really not much you can do,” North Baltimore coach Cody Pelton said after the Tigers dropped to 11-9 overall and 4-6 in the BVC. “You’re going to pick your poison and tonight, they shot it well.”
North Baltimore trailed 42-35 with 4:24 left in the third quarter after four quick points from Alivia Light. The junior guard, who scored a game-high 18 points, went coast to coast for a layup after grabbing a rebound and scored off a Liberty-Benton turnover.
From there, Liberty-Benton took over on both sides of the ball.
The Eagles’ lead ballooned to 62-40 by the end of the quarter. Elseser had seven points during the run, including a 3-point play off Shardo’s pass. Richards drained a 3-pointer, stole the inbounds pass and Alexa Lenhart capitalized with a bucket to cap off a 5-0 run in nine seconds.
“Coming out in the second half, we were just tired,” Pelton said. “We play seven, they got a lot of shooters, we’re having to run out and run and close out all over the place, so eventually, it wore on us.”
Reynolds opened the fourth quarter with a 3-pointer off Richards’ pass, and Richards stole the inbounds pass, scored, was fouled and completed the 3-point play.
The Tigers committed 10 of their 17 turnovers in the second half.
“Our defense is what gets us started and once our defense was able to string together some stops there in that third quarter, we played very unselfish basketball on the offense end of the floor,” Irwin said. “We had a lot of assists, had some girls make the right read and we hit some shots.”
North Baltimore went on an 8-0 run in the second quarter to pull within 27-24 with 4:25 left. Katelyn Weinandy, who scored eight of her 10 points in the first half, made three free throws after being fouled on a 3-point attempt and Light drained a 3-pointer during the run.
“Our game plan is always to try to defend teams well and we didn’t do the best job of it in the first half. Give North Baltimore a lot of credit,” Irwin said. “We didn’t contain Alivia really well, she was able to break us down and create some scoring opportunites not just for herself, but also for her teammates. She’s a great player, she’s tough to contain.”
Hailey Watson led North Baltimore with nine rebounds. Weinandy added seven boards and Light had four assists. The Tigers shot 31 percent (16 of 51) from the floor and were just 13 percent (3 of 23) from 3-point range.
NORTH BALTIMORE (11-9, 4-6 BVC)
Light 7-2–18, Weinandy 3-3–10, Thompson 3-0–6, McCartney 1-3–5, Watson 1-1–3, Lee 1-0–2, Smith 0-0–0, Baker 0-0–0, Perez 0-0–0, Brooker 0-0–0, Long 0-0–0. TOTALS: 16-51 9-13 — 44.
LIBERTY-BENTON (19-1, 10-0 BVC)
Elseser 8-1–17, Shardo 7-0–17, Richards 5-4–15, Reynolds 5-0–15, Shepherd 4-0–9, Lenhart 3-0–7, Hatch 2-2–7, Peplinski 2-1–6, Durliat 0-2–2, Grubinski 0-1–1, Aschemeier 0-0–0, Kin 0-0–0, Ward 0-0–0, Smith 0-0–0. TOTALS: 36-63 11-16 — 96.
North Baltimore 10 19 11 4 — 44
Liberty-Benton 17 21 24 34 — 96
3-Point GOALS: North Baltimore 3-23 (Light 2, Weinandy 1); Liberty-Benton 13-26 (Reynolds 5, Shardo 3, Richards, Shepherd, Lenhart, Hatch & Peplinski 1).
rebounds: North Baltimore 30 (Watson 9); Liberty-Benton 36 (Elseser 7).
turnovers: North Baltimore 17, Liberty-Benton 5.
junior varsity: Liberty-Benton, 70-27.