January 21, 2014
By Christina Corrales-Toy
Liberty teams sweep Sammamish
If you scoured the 3A state girls basketball rankings at the beginning of the season, you wouldn’t find Liberty High School mentioned on any lists.
The Patriots weren’t even considered in the same class as KingCo 3A/2A league foes Juanita and Bellevue. It’s understandable — this group, with virtually the same roster, went 13-11 last year, good for fourth in the conference.
The Patriots girls basketball team is quickly turning heads across the state, though, with big wins over ranked opponents Everett, Bellevue and previously unbeaten Juanita.
“We’re the underdogs, so when we do beat those teams, it’s pretty awesome,” Liberty senior forward Ashlan Applegate said.
Applegate led Liberty scorers with 16 points in the Patriots’ Jan. 15 upset of Juanita, 61-54. She also collected 10 rebounds and recorded three steals and three assists.
It was a big win for Liberty, under first-year coach Curtis Terry. Juanita was unbeaten and ranked second in the state at the time, according to The Seattle Times.
The Patriots didn’t experience any letdowns, either, as they easily took care of Sammamish, 54-28, just two days later.
Sammamish was no match for Liberty, which led nearly the entire contest. Junior Danielle Demps led the Patriots with 13 points.
“Today, I was just playing natural, less pressure, less to worry about, just focusing on doing what I know I can do,” she said.
Senior captain Sierra Carlson finished with eight points, followed by junior Sarah Bliesner, who had seven.
Liberty is an experienced team, with a roster that is largely the same as last year. There is one significant change, though, and it factors considerably in the Patriots’ quick turnaround this season, Carlson said.
“The new coach, he just totally turned our program around, and I think we just come to games with a new fire in our eyes,” she said.
Terry came to Liberty after working as an assistant at Auburn Riverside; before that, he starred on the court, playing at the University of Nevada Las Vegas. He graduated from University Place’s Curtis High School in 2004.
“Last year was kind of rough, and I think with a new coach we just needed something new,” Applegate said. “I think he’s the perfect coach for our team.”
Boys win thriller in overtime
Liberty guard Payton Frey admitted he was nervous when he learned that star Kellan Birdsall was out with an injury for the team’s Jan. 17 contest against Sammamish.
“I was so scared, because he’s our leading scorer,” he said.
Even without Birdsall, the Patriots were able to secure an overtime victory, and it all began with a Frey-led two-minute sequence at the end of regulation.
With just under two minutes in the game, Sammamish led 38-31, before Frey came up with a clutch 3-pointer to make it a four-point deficit.
Sammamish quickly responded with two points, but Liberty took it one further, when Dayton Mackay came up with a 3-point basket of his own.
At that point, the Patriots fans were loud, very loud, but just moments later, they got even louder when Liberty junior Daniel Rodriguez, fresh off the bench, came in and delivered a game-tying three with just seconds left in the game.
“Daniel plays a lot of time on JV, working with those guys, but we’ve seen him make a number of threes, so when we needed a 3-point specialist, we put him in at the end of the game and he steps up,” Liberty coach Omar Parker said.
That basket caused an eruption of screaming delight so loud that you couldn’t even hear the announcer yell “Daniel Rodriguez for three” over the speakers.
“It was so hard to hear out there. It was crazy,” Frey said. “I couldn’t feel my legs at one point because I was so excited.”
It sent the game to a four-minute overtime, where Liberty captured the come-from-behind victory, 49-44. Just as that two-minute stretch in regulation began with a Frey 3-pointer, so, too, did overtime.
“Payton has played a lot more this year, and he’s been up and down with his 3-point shooting,” Parker said. “We’ve told him to remain confident, and I think he’s one of the best shooters in the conference, and just to keep kind of plugging along, and he just steps up and buries it.”
Frey ended the game with 13 points, followed by Mackay, who had eight, and Preston Mitsui, who had seven.