Liberty girls fall just short in OT, take fourth in KingCo Tournament

With some help of last second heroics, Liberty got to OT, but couldn’t down Juanita.

Before school was out for Liberty High School students on Feb. 7, the Patriot girls basketball team was fighting for seeding heading into the district tournament.

Liberty has hovered right around .500 or slightly below it since the calendar switched from 2023 to 2024. But coming into the KingCo Tournament, Liberty had won two straight games: the first over Bellevue by two and then Juanita by one.

In the opening round of the KingCo Tournament, Liberty knocked out Bellevue for two straight wins over the Wolverines, but after a loss to second seeded Mercer Island, the Patriots found themselves in the third-place game against Juanita.

Over the course of the regular season, the Patriots swept the Ravens. The second and most recent matchup went down to the wire and saw Liberty victorious 48-46. This pairing also went down to the wire, needing an additional period, but Liberty fell in the end, 56-52 in overtime.

If there is one thing Liberty didn’t do, it was start slow. In the first quarter, the Patriots essentially did everything right. They defended, rebounded and offensively were dynamite. After the first quarter, Liberty held an 18-9 advantage over Juanita.

Junior Addison Tran nailed four three-pointers to jump start her Liberty side.

“I’m pretty excited when I get to go out. I always look for opporunities to score,” Tran said.

The second and third quarters were difficult for the Patriots to manage. All momentum built on a strong first quarter seemingly vanished.

In the second quarter, Kendall Leavitt scored four points in the first two minutes of the quarter. That was all Liberty would add to their 18 points from the first quarter. Juanita would end up taking a lead going into halftime and put Liberty behind the eight-ball.

“Kendall has been up and down this year. She showed up in this game and was ready,” said Head Coach Travis Whitaker.

Coming out of the halftime break, Liberty needed some help offensively and got four huge points from Kyra Koxlien, who has been playing her best basketball of the season down the stretch for Liberty.

“Kyra has been on a roll, she’s been playing very well. She’s a tough matchup for people. She continued that tonight and did a good job,” Whitaker said.

Heading to the fourth, despite not playing their best basketball, the Patriots trailed by just six points. With under 10 seconds remaining, Liberty trailed 42-45 and needed what seemed like a miracle with how the game had been going. But give the Patriots credit, they fought back and left it all on the court.

“That is one of our best qualities is that those girls don’t give up. Regardless of what we’re facing, they play it out until the final buzzer,” Whitaker said.

In the midst of the comeback, Tran got to see her freshman sister Ai-Vi get some playoff minutes.

“It was awesome, when I saw her go in I was like ‘Yes!’… I am really proud of her,” Addison said about her sister.

Leavitt dribbled the ball up the floor, and after some creative passing from Tran and Koxlien, they found Leavitt, who hoisted a shot from about 26 feet away and answered the Liberty prayers with the biggest shot of the game. Her three-point make sent the game to overtime and swung momentum right back the way of the Patriots.

“She (Leavitt) struggled with turnovers a bit in the first half, but I thought she got her feet under her and played a really good second half. I was happy to see that,” Whitaker said.

In the fifth quarter, Liberty just couldn’t find a groove. Either they would make a basket and give up a basket, or turn the ball over and allow a Juanita make. Ella Whitaker had her best quarter of the game with four points, but just couldn’t will the Patriots over the line.