LIBERTY - The Liberty Leopards do not have a huge bench, but they made what they had count in a 54-35 victory over Girard on Thursday.
In the first half, only six girls touched the floor. The seventh player did not enter the game until the second half. Coach Ron DeJulio accepts the fact that his bench is short.
"That's how we play," DeJulio said. "It's six, sometimes seven. Those are my main girls and we just rotate them. We have one girl (MacKenzie Stanley) that can do all three - be a guard, forward and a post. So it works out real well for us."
Tribune Chronicle / R. Michael Semple
Liberty’s Marcy Dykes, left, drives past Megan Payich of Girard on Thursday night.
The Leopards shared the scoring load with three of the six players scoring in double digits. Marcy Dykes earned a double-double, draining six field goals and two free throws for 14 points. She also pulled down 13 rebounds. Leah Leshnack and Rachel Crum both registered 12 points each, and Amy Mikulich added nine.
"I think that we did a really good job," Dykes said. "Our ball handling and waiting for good shots is what helped me earn my points. We played nice defense on Girard. We got up on them and took the ball off of them and pressured the ball, but we have to work on our foul shots."
Liberty played a wide array of defenses to help earn the lead. In the first half, the Leopards played it safe in a 2-1-2 zone, which allowed them to hang in the paint, stop penetration and get a feel for how Girard was going to play offensively. Then they tried out a full-court press, which led to turnovers and steals - and a majority of their points. And finally, they finished off in a half-court trap.
"That's just how we play," DeJulio said. "We are going to full-court press you. We do some different defenses in the half court with zone. We just try to change it up, so that the offense doesn't get comfortable."
Although the press did help Liberty out, it did not fully incapacitate Girard until the second half. When the buzzer rang to allow intermission, the score was 21-15.
"The problem we have is that we have trouble breaking a press," Girard coach Andrew Saxon said. "We were turning the ball over too many times. Too many turnovers and too many transition layups for Liberty. Basically, we don't have the best outside shooting and they were able to pack it in a zone.
"Then, when they started pressing, we started turning the ball over. I'm not sure how many turnovers we had, but you can't turn the ball over that many times and expect to win. That was a main thing and the press hurt us. In the half-court game, we were OK, it's just transition basketball was not good for us tonight."
Although the turnovers were an issue, Girard had a phenomenal rebounding game in the first half, which is what kept them in the contest. But even though Girard outrebounded Liberty in the first half, Liberty came back after halftime with a tenacity that was not shown in the prior half.
"They were outrebounding us terribly in the first half," DeJulio said. "In the second half, we went over on rebounding. We were horrible from the free-throw line. We were 3-14 in the first half. I don't know if we got much better, maybe a little better, in the second half but that was the two things we talked about at halftime."
They did not get better from the line. As a team, they went 7-22.
"Our coach talked to us and made sure that we got on them," Dykes said. "We had to make sure that we had the ball and rebounded. We had to make sure that each player did their job."
Girard's Bree Bishop was not able to be at the game and that was a major hit to the Indians as she is their leading scorer and rebounder, but Saxon has faith in his underclassman.
"We have a young group of girls," Saxon said. "I had two freshmen that played three quarters. It's just experience. The girls are open, they just have to make the right decisions. We made some really nice passes, but we didn't reverse the ball well enough. We kept trying to go down the middle, which made it hard to see the floor, and having freshmen out there does make a bit of difference, but they played hard.
"We just found out today that she wasn't playing. We didn't really have time to prepare a lot. She brings the ball down at times when we need her to and we give the ball in the middle to her and it helps out. We just didn't have time to prepare for that situation, but we still should have handled the press better."