Liberty Belles 59,

Black Widows 41

During the first half of yesterday's U.S. Junior Nationals 17-and-under championship game against the Boo Williams Black Widows, the Liberty Belles-Cook team looked as if it was going to fall to the Richmond-based team for the fourth time this summer.

But the Liberty Belles tightened their perimeter defense and rode their potent post players -- 6-foot-2 forward Carrem Gay (17 points and eight rebounds) and 6-4 center Tina Charles (game-high 18 points and nine rebounds) -- to a 59-41 victory at American University's Bender Arena.

The Liberty Belles beat the Fairfax Stars, 55-44, in the semifinals.

"This is the fourth time that we've played them, and we've never beaten them," said Liberty Belles Coach Jill Cook, whose roster is stacked with players from the perennial national power Christ the King (Middle Village, N.Y.). "We've always had a hard time handling their guards. I told the girls at halftime that we had to play better defensively."

The Liberty Belles opened the second half with a sense of urgency behind a 20-5 run in which Gay and Charles took advantage of their height and experience by scoring a combined 10 points. Guard Nakejia Kelly anchored the Liberty Belles' defensive resurgence that limited the Black Widows to one field goal in the first 10 minutes 37 seconds of the half and forced four turnovers during the surge.

"We had no answer for their post players," Black Widows Coach Boo Williams said. "They did a good job running the high-low plays. Our post game is young and they have a lot to learn."

Gay and Charles developed their chemistry last season, when the duo led Christ the King to a 25-2 record, its 20th consecutive New York State Catholic AA championship and a runner-up finish in the New York State Class AA tournament.

The post game "is always what has worked for us in high school," said Gay, who has committed to Duke. "It just comes naturally."

Liberty Belles' Jazzmin Walter (12) is fouled by Black Widows' Kelsey McAdoo in U.S. Junior Nationals 17-and-under title game at Bender Arena.