METRO LEAGUE GIRLS BASKETBALL: Jesuit 60, Liberty 49

Although Liberty never really put the fear into Jesuit Tuesday night, the young Falcons showed that the gap between their young talent and the Crusaders’ young talent isn’t as wide as an earlier matchup may have indicated.

Bella Mori rolled up a game-high 21 points, seven coming in the final quarter, as the Crusaders held off a Liberty comeback with a 60-49 win over the Falcons at Liberty High School Tuesday night.

Liberty sophomore Clara Robbins scored six of her team-high 11 points in the final period as the Falcons cut what was once a 17-point Jesuit lead to seven with just under two-and-half minutes remaining in the game. But Mori scored the next six points for the Crusaders as Liberty could get no closer.

Back on January 12, Liberty lost 64-29 at the Knight Center, a performance Liberty head coach (and former Crusader) Melanie Wagoner called one of their worst as a team and as individuals.

“We got off to rough start missing shots then got rattled really easily when they got up into us and pressured us,” said Wagoner. “We did a lot of things that we are in control of that we didn’t need to do. We took about 32 threes, turned the ball over and didnt’ come out with confidence.”

Coach Wagoner tweaked her starting lineup Tuesday, putting more experience on the floor with senior Katie Magera and junior Emily Le in the lineup in place of the Falcons’ freshman backcourt of Livia Knappa and Taylin Smith. In addition, swing sophomore Alexa Smith, a standout on Liberty’s successful JV team this season, started alongside 6-0 senior Nicole Robbins in the frontcourt, while soph standout Clara Robbins, Nicole’s younger sister, came off the bench.

The Falcons coughed up the basketball on five of their first six possessions, but held Jesuit to just one made field goal in the first 5:49, that coming when point guard Anna Farelli drove the lane and hit a floater shortly after the tip-off.

With Liberty leading 4-3 after a couple of the younger players checked in and Clara Robbins hit a rebound putback off a Smith miss, Jesuit’s Savannah Coradini bombed in back-to-back three-pointers and the Crusaders would not trail again.

Mori hit a layup just before the buzzer to give Jesuit an 11-5 lead after one quarter, then got another late bucket to close the half, giving the Crusaders a 31-18 lead. Mori scored 12 points in the period and had 14 at the half.

In the third quarter, Jesuit’s Kailynn Tuck got a steal and was fouled in the act of shooting on the other end of the floor. She hit the first and missed the second free throw, curling into the lane to rebound her own miss and put it back in the hole. The three-point play put the Crusaders up 45-28. Liberty would close the quarter on a 9-2 run to trim the lead to 47-37 entering the final period.

The Crusaders would get in early foul trouble in the second half, reaching seven team fouls just four minutes into the third period. Elsa Hookland picked up four fouls in the third quarter alone, but was able to stay on the floor until the finish. Her steal and lead pass set up Taylor Freeman’s layin as the Crusaders jumped ahead 51-37 early in the fourth quarter, prompting a Liberty time out. A Freeman free throw made it 52-37 before Danielle Llamas, a 4-11 sophomore guard who also was in Liberty’s starting five Tuesady, hit the Falcons’ only three of the night, followed by two Clara Robbins buckets as Liberty narrowed the gap to seven, but that’s as close as Liberty would get.

Jesuit’s early three-point shooting gave the Crusaders enough cushion to keep Liberty at bay. Coradini went 3-for-7 from downtown to score all nine of her points. the Crusaders hit 6-of-18 for the game with Mori adding a pair of triples during her second-quarter outburst. Liberty was just 1-for-9 from outside the arc. Not known for their shooting prowess, Jesuit connected on a more-than-respectable 45-percent from the field (22-49), overcoming Liberty’s big edge at the foul line. The Falcons were 18-of-28 at the charity stripe, outscoring the visitors by eight, but shot just 38-percent from the field 15-39).

The Falcons fell to 6-9 in the Metro League and 9-14 overall. More importantly, they slipped five spots to #26 in the OSAA rankings, meaning a win in their home finale against Westview may be necessary to avoid the play-in round. The Wildcats got a huge win at Glencoe, 66-40, rising to #18 in the rankings as they moved a half-game ahead of Liberty into fifth place in the Metro standings with two games to play.