By EARL WATT • Daily Leader
There was more on the line Friday when Liberal and Hays met in the semi-finals of the Colby Orange and Black Classic than just two western Kansas teams playing a high school basketball game.
With high expectations placed on the Redskins this season after last year’s state tournament appearance and most of the team returning, a loss to Hays Jan. 9 to open Western Athletic Conference play took some air out of the Redskin balloon.
Liberal had a chance to make up for that loss, and that’s just what they did.
The Redskins cruised to a 52-41 win over the Indians and advanced to the Orange Black championship game against host Colby.
“It was a good win for us,” Liberal coach Drew Gruver said. “Hays is a tough team to play. I was proud of how hard we competed.”
Not only did Liberal knock off Hays, but they had to do it with early foul trouble.
Alex Gilmore was whistled for his third foul midway through the second quarter, and Justin Morgan had to run the point.
Jade Cathey also had two first-half fouls which limited his play.
But the substitutes didn’t hurt the Redskins offensive effort.
Kowan Russell came in to score 13 points for the Redskins.
By halftime the Redskins had a 20-19 lead.
“Even though we had some guys out with fouls, we did a good job defensively of not giving up too many points,” Gruver said.” I have to credit the guys for buying us some time.”
The Redskins extended the lead to 31-28 after three, and that’s when the Redskins started to distance themselves from the Indians.
Kevin Livingston penetrated the Hays defense and earned nine trips to the line in the final quarter. He made nine of them. The Redskin offense continued to push to the goal, and Hays continued to foul.
Liberal shot 25 free throws in the fourth quarter alone and a total of 38 attempts for the game. The Redskins connected on 22 of those attempts.
With about two minutes to play, the Redskins had a 10-point lead, something they had last week against Sunrise and lost in overtime.
“We didn’t panic,” Gruver said. “We took care of the ball and knocked down free throws. Since we had been in that situation before, I think that helped our guys finish and get the win.
Livingston scored 16, Russell had 13, Gilmore scored 12, Cathey nine and Berakah Carter added 2.