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Girls basketball: Tupper leads St. Helens to thrilling win over Liberty

Rianne Tupper's three-pointer with 9.6 seconds left was the game-winner, part of a seven-point fourth quarter

Photo Credit: JOHN WILLIAM HOWARD - St. Helens senior Rianne Tupper takes her time with a free throw in the fourth quarter. Tupper led St. Helens with 20 points, including the game-winning three.St. Helens girls basketball head coach Billy McKinney has seen plenty ups and downs from his senior star guard Rianne Tupper over the years. He's seen her shoot the lights out and lead the team in scoring often enough, he knew a repeat of her five-point game in a loss at Sandy wasn't going to stick.

“I looked at Rianne [Tupper] and said, 'The other night you kinda had a shaky game. You're due for a big one. I'd like to see you shoot the ball more. I'd like to see you put the ball up more,'” McKinney said. “And she brought it to us tonight.”

Did she ever. Tupper led the Lions as they came from 16-down to beat Liberty 54-53 on a three pointer in the final ten seconds from — you guessed it — Rianne Tupper herself. Tupper scored seven of her team-high 20 points in the final period.

And when the Lions had gotten two misses from Liberty at the foul line and advanced up the court with just under 24 seconds to go, McKinney knew exactly where to go.

“I wanted to run a triple screen so [Tupper] could come off the back and let it go, but she was right here, [her defender] turned her back and that's when I said, 'Shoot it,'” McKinney said, still shaking from excitement.

They'd been composed all game long, but when Tupper's trey swished through the net, the St. Helens bench erupted onto the court as Liberty, stunned, called time out. The Falcons (3-3, 1-1 NWOC) had led 34-23 at halftime, and scored five in a row early in the third quarter to take a 41-25 lead. The Lions were back to their usual selves and were having one of the bad quarters that had sunk them in the first four games of the year.

But after Liberty guard Bonnie Romeo missed a pair at the line, something seem to change in the Lions' mentality.

“The third quarter is what's been killing us all year, and I told the kids, I said, 'you know what? The sign of a good team is somebody who has character and knows how to fight back,'” McKinney said.

The fight started on the defensive end of the floor, as St. Helens began to make Liberty pay for tossing lazy passes over the top of the defense.

By the time Liberty finally scored again, the Lions were back within single digits. Maggie Cochran, who finished with 11 points, connected to cap a 9-0 run, and hit a tough floater in the closing seconds of the third quarter. The Lions, after trailing by 16 with just under five minutes left in the period, were only down five heading to the final quarter.

Four consecutive points from Tupper early on cut the lead to three, an edge quickly pushed back to five with time winding down. That's when a baseball pass found the long arms of Annika Bingaman for an acrobatic layup to make it 53-50. Tupper stold the ball moments later and hit one of two at the line and after two consecutive misses in one-and-one situations from Liberty, Tupper got her chance at a game winner.

The final buzzer might have sounded the end of an era, given the excitement of McKinney. It's been a struggle to put together a full performance so far this season and judging by the result — outscoring Liberty 14-8 in the final period — they've cleared yet another hurdle.

“This is huge,” McKinney said of his young squad. “This is confidence building. This is huge for us, really big. They need this.”

Their next three games are winnable according to McKinney, who made it a goal before ever stepping on the floor with Liberty. They'll get a shot at Thurston (2-3), who is on a two-game losing streak, on Dec. 22. They'll play Woodburn (3-3) on Dec. 29, and match up with Sprague on Jan. 2.


St. Helens 54, Liberty 53

LIBE 18 16 11 8 — 53

STHE 11 12 17 14 — 54

Scoring: Tupper 20, Cochran 11, Wagner 3, Finch 1, Roth 4, Nollette 4, Ramsey, Curtiss 7, A. Bingaman 4

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