As stunning as Liberty's comeback was in the final minute against Brunswick on Saturday, even more unbelievable to the Eagles was how that effort ended with a 60-59 loss in the Virginia AA quarterfinals at Matoaca High.
For most of the game, Liberty displayed little emotion, took rushed shots and had trouble finishing inside in its first trip to the state tournament in the school's nine years. The Eagles made only half of their 24 free throw attempts, and missed seven in the fourth quarter.
Almost like flipping a switch, though, Liberty put forth its best full-court pressure to generate a pair of steals and turn a 57-52 deficit with one minute remaining into a 59-57 edge just 14 seconds later.
"When we got those two steals, that was big," Liberty Coach Paul Frye said. "It gave us some life, and we really needed that."
But in the final 34 seconds, Brunswick (18-9) made 1 of 2 free throws, watched Liberty miss two attempts from the line, and then hit a drive in the lane with 11 seconds left to provide the final margin. With eight seconds left, Liberty's best player, Davon Deans, drove the length of the court and pulled up for a short jumper that hit the front of the rim before time expired for Liberty (18-8), which tied the school record for wins.
Liberty will lose only Deans, a fourth-year junior, and seldom-used reserve senior center Mike Hull from this team, so the Eagles should return much of their roster next season.
Gar-Field Comes Up Short
As he dabbed his teary eyes after playing his final high school basketball game, even Gar-Field senior guard Chris Doss could grasp the Indians' achievements despite the disappointment of a 50-33 Virginia AAA quarterfinal loss Saturday to Highland Springs at Woodbridge.
An 8-7 squad in January, Gar-Field won 10 of its final 12 games, claiming the Cardinal District and Northwestern Region titles along the way.
"It still feels great that we made it this far," said the 5-foot-9 Doss, who scored a season-high 19 points by making 7 of 8 field goal attempts -- almost all of them inside -- and 5 of 6 free throw attempts.
"I won't say that we're glad to be here and delighted with the results, but we maxed out," said Gar-Field Coach Andy Gray, whose team is 97-30 the past five seasons. "This crew has probably been the most special crew I've been associated with in 16 years of coaching basketball. They exceeded every expectation. When we were talking in the fall, we would have never thought this, would we?"
It was a two-point game in the fourth quarter, but the Springers outscored the Indians 20-5 over the final seven minutes in part by closely sticking to Gar-Field junior guard Chris Vann, the team's leading scorer, who squeezed off only three shots in his scoreless second half.
"We shocked a lot of people," Vann said of the Indians' surprise postseason run. "When a team gets on a five-, six-, seven-game wining streak, it's hard to slow them down. That's how we felt."