Liberty boys overcome Hilhi 57-43
It was opening night at Liberty High School, and while the Hilhi Spartans came to play, it was the Falcons that stole the show.
Liberty fell behind early, but rode the hot hand of sophomore forward Tyler Rockwell during a 20-6 second quarter run to take the lead — a vantage point from which they never looked back.
"What a great first varsity game," said Liberty head coach Brian Martin. "I told him beforehand that he's probably going to show some nerves, but he didn't show too many nerves."
Rockwell finished with 16 points on the night, shooting 6-for-12 from the field and 4-for-8 from behind the arc. The first-year varsity player, who exhibits a silky smooth jumper, also added six rebounds and a block to just two turnovers.
"He really changed the game and kind of carried us in that second quarter," said Martin. "He knocked down some shots and because of that created space for other guys to get good looks."
The rest of the team didn't fare so well from the field, shooting just 37.8 percent. In addition, the Falcons committed 24 turnovers and hit on just 15 of their 28 free throw attempts. But while they struggled at times, the Spartans did so for the bulk of the night, shooting 30.4 percent from the field, making just three of 17 three-point attempts and scoring just six points in what turned out to be a decisive third quarter.
"There are so many things we can work on to get better, but what I was really proud of was our defense," said Martin. "We talked about getting up in the passing lanes, applying ball pressure and rebounding the basketball. And I thought we did those things pretty well for our first game."
The Spartans jumped out to an early 8-2 lead and used a heightened level of energy to finish the first quarter with a 13-10 edge. But after a Quintin Thomas free throw made it 14-10 to open the second quarter, Rockwell went to work, scoring eight straight in a stretch that gave the Falcons their first lead at 22-20 — and then 25-20 with three minutes remaining before half.
Liberty took a 32-23 lead to the locker room, then quickly grew that to 40-25 midway through the third with help from Rockwell, Taylor Martin and Erwin Estocapio, who hit a three of his own make it a 15-point game. From there, things got a bit sloppy.
Both teams stumbled offensively and in addition, struggled mightily to take care of the basketball. The two teams combined for 43 turnovers, and while some occurred through the flow of action, Liberty's Martin acknowledged the need to simply do better.
"You just can't be that reckless with the ball," Martin said. "Some of that stuff was a result of good intentions, but we have to be more careful."
Hilhi got within 10 when Nathaniel Smith made one of two free throws to start the fourth, but seven straight Nathaniel Boyer points put Liberty up by 18 a couple minutes later and it was simply a matter of running out the clock for the Falcons' first win.
Boyer, Liberty's starting point guard, finished with 12 points and four assists, but shot just 3-for-12 from the field.
"He's a good player and he's smart," Martin said. "He struggled a little bit shooting the ball tonight, but that happens and he'll be good for us going forward."
Hilhi was led by Thomas and Smith, who both tallied seven points, while three others scored five apiece.
Liberty traveled to Southern Oregon Thursday to play in the Crater Basketball Invitational Dec. 7-9, while Hilhi travels to Central Oregon to play games against Mt. View and Bend Dec. 8 and 9.