Liberty High School went to battle against Lake Washington inside the Liberty gymnasium on Jan. 5. The boys were the lone victor for the blue and green over the Kangs.
The Patriot girls entered the matchup against Lake Washington going 3-3 in their last six games and going 2-1 in their trip to Arizona. Their one loss was against 4A Union High School in Vancouver, Washington.
Despite that trip to Arizona, Liberty came home with a huge 53-10 win over Interlake last time out.
The Kangaroo girls were going to be the team to beat for the Patriots as they are undefeated in league play this season. Lake Washington defeated the Patriot girls, 56-43.
“We didn’t shoot our best tonight, but I thought we hung in there. Even when we got down in the fourth pretty big, we were scrapping and fighting to get back into the game,” Head Coach Travis Whitaker said.
Liberty came out firing from three-point land, scoring nine points late in the first with just enough to hold a lead at 14-12 over the Kangs. Kendall Leavitt was the sharpshooter for the Patriots with two three-pointers in the last two minutes of the quarter.
The hot shooting at the end of the first was really the highlight of the first half, and quite possibly the game. Lake Washington showed the prowess of a state runner-up from last season.
Lake Washington runs a suffocating full court press and put high pressure on the Patriots. Whitaker was proud of his side’s ability to navigate the pressure.
“My biggest concern coming into this game was their pressure. We had some sloppy moments here and there, but overall it’s the best I’ve seen us handle their pressure,” Whitaker said.
Liberty was held to just seven points in the second quarter and four points in the third, and essentially taken out of the game.
Ella Whitaker, leading scorer for the Patriots, was kept in check with just four points over three quarters and finished with 10 points in the loss.
Even if the game was out of hand when the last 8:00 went on the clock, Liberty might have had their best quarter. In the fourth, Liberty outscored the Kangs 17-11, with some big transition threes and defensive stands.
It has been tough sledding against in-state opponents with an above .500 record — the Patriots are 2-4, and with the schedule slowing up, there will be more practice time, which Coach Whitaker thinks will help against those tough opponents.
“Our schedule has kind of just been a rat race. We’ve played game after game after game. So we haven’t had a ton of real, true practice … We’ll get into a steady practice schedule and I think that will really help us,” Whitaker said.
On the boys side, Liberty has gone 6-0 in league for the first time since the 2017-18 season and the second time in Head Coach Omar Parker’s tenure at Liberty.
The Patriots cruised to a 72-54 win over Lake Washington at home to close out an undefeated first half of league play.
“Post-game, I told them this is the best game that we played, the most complete win,” Coach Parker said.
In the 18-point win, Liberty had four players score in double figures. Senior Denali Hatcher had 16 points alongside Jackson Whitaker and Hansen Fan, who also had 16.
“We have a lot of guys that can score. They’ve only got so many defenders. So every night a different guy has a chance to step up,” Parker said.
Liberty got out to an eight-point first quarter lead, thanks to Max Vermeulen scoring seven of his nine points in the opening quarter.
“Our guys came out with the energy we needed tonight … They executed a game plan and had a ton of energy on the defensive end and on the glass,” Parker said.
At halftime, Liberty led by 17 and had a focus on the first four minutes of the second half. To a certain extent, they won the first four minutes, leading 52-25 at the 3:48 mark in the third quarter. It was the Hansen Fan quarter, where he went on an 8-0 run on his own.
“He has been our best defensive player and who we have been putting on their best offensive player. But you cannot sleep on Hansen from the three-point line,” said Parker.
Lake Washington continued to work the Patriots and cut the lead all the way down to eight from 27.
“Lake Washington is a heck of a team. It was going to take a great effort to beat them … We talked about how good they are and that they were going to make a run,” Parker said.
Parker called a timeout and following that timeout, the Patriots bounced back and took the reins of the game. Technical freshman Tyson Burley brought the energy and resolve for the Patriots. Parker doesn’t refer to him as a freshman any longer because he’s playing like an upperclassman.
“He’s not a freshman anymore. We’re in our 11th game, so he’s a sophomore now. He shows it. He’s mature beyond his years. He brings a fire and an intensity (with) a high basketball IQ and an ability to pass that is uncanny,” Parker said.
Fan added: “He brought a bunch of energy. For a freshman he is unbelievable, he’s definitely been a big add on for our team throughout these years. He’s just been growing and getting better every day.”
The Patriots recently went down to San Diego and had their feathers ruffled a little bit, losing all three games in the southern tip of the Golden State. One of the reasons for that trip was to simulate the postseason and the challenges that it presents.
It’s a challenge not only for players, playing three games in four days, but also a challenge for the coaches: “We’re having to do late nights with scouting reports and prepare the next day,” Parker said.
But the real benefit came off the court.
“That (late night coaching) is valuable, but not as valuable as the kids fighting over the last piece of pizza or messing around in the hallways. Going to Sea World and really coming together as a group. That’s the main things,” Parker said.