The Central District basketball tournament isn’t that far away, and time to get ready is getting scarce. Both the Liberty Patriots and Orange Pioneers know that all too well, so when the two teams met Saturday night, it became more than just a sister-school rivalry — it was a chance to show just how ready they were, and what needed more work.
As far as the game was concerned, Liberty opened with a strong run, and after a great deal of back and forth in the middle quarters, the Patriots pulled away in the fourth and finished with a 52-34 non-league victory over the Pioneers at Orange High School.
“There are four or five teams we don’t want to see in the tournament right away, but the rest you can put in a hat and shake it up,” Liberty coach Greg Nossaman said. “I look at our schedule the rest of the way, and we can beat any team on there, and if we don’t play well, we can get beat. If we play O.K., we’ll be all right, but that’s not where we are right now. We have to come to work every single night.”
Liberty’s (9-6) main advantage came via its defense. The Patriots forced the young Orange (2-10) squad into 19 turnovers in the game, including five or more in three of the four quarters.
“We are young, but that’s now old hat,” Orange coach Anthony Calo said. “That cannot be an excuse. We have three seniors on this team that don’t have a next year, and our kids have to start playing for them. We’re 12 games into the season and we’re not that far away, but the youthful mistakes have to end. We’ve played enough to know we have to be strong with the ball and make plays, and we’re capable of doing that.”
Five Pioneer turnovers in the opening quarter, as well as three missed shots from beyond the three-point arc, were instrumental in a Liberty 11-0 run over three minutes that broke a 2-2 tie and gave the Patriots a 13-2 lead. Senior Zach Nice was especially active during that run, scoring nine of his 15 points in that span.
Liberty led 15-6 after one quarter, but the host Pioneers began to show what they are capable of in the second. Orange opened the period with an 8-3 run to cut the Patriot lead to four, 18-14, with 2:56 left in the half, and trimmed it to four again, 21-17, in the final minute before finishing the half down by six, 23-17.
“It was important to get off to a good start, and we did, but we fell asleep in the second quarter and they got it down to six at the half,” Nossaman said. “You can’t play perfect, but when they hit two or three buckets in a row, you have to answer.”
Senior Chase Mosher and freshman Jay Joseph were instrumental to the Pioneer comeback, scoring all 11 Orange points in the second period — Joseph with six and Mosher with five, including a three.
“In our wins against Big Walnut and Worthington Kilbourne, we played very well, and that’s the kind of basketball we’re capable of,” Calo said. “We were very disciplined in those games and when we’re disciplined, we’re pretty good. We’re just a little inconsistent. We’re able to do it all, but we have to maintain our discipline and consistency.”
“Anthony is doing such a great job with Orange, and in a couple years, they’re going to be pretty good,” Nossaman said. “I’d like to think each year, as we graduate kids, we’re bringing kids into the system and we can continue to he good, too, but there is nothing like varsity experience. They had a shot at beating New Albany, they beat Worthington Kilbourne, and they’re playing solid basketball.”
The third quarter was just a roller-coaster ride, with Liberty pushing the lead to 11 twice in the first four-plus minutes, Orange using a 5-0 run to cut it back to six a minute later, and the Patriots getting the next five points from junior Brad Smith to again take an 11-point lead, 37-26, with 1:20 left in the period.
A bucket from Orange senior Dave Dawson cut the lead to nine after three, but the Liberty pressure and transition game erupted in the final quarter, and the Patriots outscored the Pioneers 13-2 in the first five minutes of the period to take a 50-30 lead with 2:48 to play, locking the game away.
Senior Michael DeLeon had game highs in four categories, including 16 points, 12 in the second half — six on dunks off Orange turnovers — and eight in the fourth quarter. DeLeon also had nine rebounds, four assists and four steals.
Nice added five rebounds and two assists to his 15 points, Smith finished with nine points, four rebounds, two assists and two steals, and senior Law Jones six points, including a three-pointer, and three steals.
Joseph led the Pioneer scorers with 12 points, adding four rebounds, while Mosher had eight points, including a pair of treys. Sophomore Grant Gossard also had six points, leading the team with eight rebounds while adding a game-high five blocked shots.