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Girls basketball: Liberty turns up the heat in 60-38 victory against Milwaukie

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Falcons outscore Mustangs 35-15 in second half to pull into third-place tie in NWOC


As far as tune-ups go, this was a pretty good one for Liberty.HILLSBORO TRIBUNE PHOTOS: CHASE ALLGOOD - Liberty's Kenzie Pimentel takes a shot over Milwaukie's Alexa Mulford during the Falcons' 60-38 win over Milwaukie Friday.

The Falcons girls basketball team – playing on Friday for its five seniors and the right to host a home play-in game next week – got off to a bit of a slow start, trailing by as many as seven points in the first half. But the team got its collective emotions in check and eventually rolled past a good Milwaukie side, 60-38, at Liberty High School.

The win lifted Liberty into a third-place tie with the Mustangs at 10-6 in the Northwest Oregon Conference. Having beaten league runner-up Hillsboro earlier this season, Milwaukie will take the conference’s No. 3 seed into the postseason and the Falcons will take the fourth.

If they had lost this one, the hosts would have fallen into a fourth-place tie with Putnam and dropped to the fifth seed – which has to travel to Bend to take on Summit for the play-in round.

Instead, the 13th-ranked Falcons should host No. 21 Pendleton, the No. 3 team out of the Columbia River Conference, on Tuesday. No. 10 Milwaukie will entertain No. 25 Ridgeview of Redmond the same night.

“It was a big game for the girls to come out,” Liberty coach Melanie Wagoner said. “It was Senior Night. We’ve got a lot of great seniors, so it was great for them to come out and get a win.”

Wagoner thought the emotions of the evening had a bit to do with her team’s somewhat slow start. Milwaukie (15-9) led 16-11 after one quarter and then 21-14 early in the second when Ariana Sanchez hit a 3-pointer. But that deficit didn’t shake Liberty, which closed the first half on an 11-2 run and took a 25-23 advantage into the break after Elaina Maki converted a pair of free throws with less than a minute remaining.

The second half completely belonged to the Falcons, who got a lift from their bench and upped their defensive pressure. Their pressing and trapping and ball-tipping harried the Mustangs into plenty of turnovers throughout the second half, during which they never trailed.

“We focus a lot on defense and we take pride in our defense, because we know how to get the tips and we know how to use our length as stoppers,” said senior Alyssa Grenfell, who scored 12 points.

Though Grenfell and company seized command in the third quarter, the complete break did not come until fairly late in the contest. After Mustang Kinsleigh Edmunds hit a pair of free throws to open the fourth period, Liberty led 37-31, so the game was still there for the taking for both sides.

But then Kenzie Pimentel took over. The sophomore guard scored Liberty’s next seven points in about 90 seconds on a couple of drives to the hoop and a 3-pointer, pushing her team’s advantage to 44-32 with about 6:00 to play.

The margin never got within single digits after that for Milwaukie.

“They made some good adjustments,” Mustangs head coach Kevin McElroy said. “We’ve had a thing all year where we’ve kind of been scared to take that extra step to get further away from teams, so we usually we usually play around with teams for a while. We did some stuff on our end that helped them out as far taking care of the ball and getting turnovers and spiraling them.

“All credit goes to Liberty tonight … they came in with enthusiasm. They played a great game tonight. Hopefully our girls can rebound.”

Pimentel scored 10 of her game-high 18 points in the final stanza. Senior Kalie Neumeyer added eight points off the bench, which stepped up to score 20 of Liberty’s 60 points. Maki added seven.

Edmunds and Merrily Jones scored eight points apiece to pace Milwaukie. Jones scored all of hers in the first quarter and then cooled thereafter. Alexa Mulford and Jeanette Jones added five points each.

Next up is that play-in round – and Liberty’s chance to make the state playoff field proper for the first time since 2013. If Friday’s game is an indicator, the Falcons are ready.

“Every team we play will be a good team now and Milwaukie was a great team,” Wagoner noted. “I think they have a great opportunity to win their first game and keep moving forward, and we’ll be rooting for them to do well.

“And I think the same with us. We’re a good team. If we play well, we have a good chance to keep playing.”