Jada Mickens lofts the ball to the basket in the second half Saturday against Hays in The Big House. Mickens scored 10 points, six of those from the free throw line, in a 59-44 win. L&T photo/Earl Watt
By EARL WATT
• Leader & Times
Midway through the third quarter, Hays and Liberal were tied Saturday night in The Big House until Ali Lucero drained back-to-back threes to spark a 19-2 Liberal run, and the Lady Redskins started 1-0 in the Western Athletic Conference with a 59-44 win.
The Lady Redskins had a strong start early, easily getting by the full court press and turning the press breaker into an offensive weapon, and the Lady Saints jumped out to a 7-0 lead.
But the Lady Indians settled in after the early barrage, and by the end of the period, the Lady Redskins had a 10-8 lead.
Liberal looked for opportunities inside, but Jada Mickens and Machia Mullens each had two fouls and had to sit for a majority of the second quarter.
Liberal coach Carter Kruger brought in Reyna Gonzalez and Laci Rush, and the pair continued to keep pace with Hays, and Whitney Hay contributed four free throws in the period, and the Lady Indians were able to pull even at halftime, 27-27.
The Lady Indians used the outside shot in the second half to counter Mullens and Mickens in the paint, and after Hay connected on a three midway through the third quarter, Talyn Kleweno hit her second trey of the quarter to force a 33-33 tie.
Mullens hit an inside shot to give the Lady Redskins a temporary lead, but Jaycee Dale answered for Hay, and again the game was tied 35-35.
That’s when the Lady Redskins started their run.
After Mickens hit a free throw, Lucero followed with a three.
Maddie Keller hit a basket for the Lady Indians with 40.3 seconds to play in the third quarter, but Lucero cranked in another three, and Liberal had a 42-37 lead.
Liberal continued to hold Hays scoreless for the first five-and-a-half minutes of the fourth quarter while adding 12 more points to the lead, and by the time Hays made a basket and was fouled on the shot with 2:22 to play, Liberal had a 54-37 lead.
Hays hit a three pointer with 12.8 seconds to play to narrow the final Lady redskins margin to 15, 59-44.
Gonzalez came off the bench to score 11, including a three pointer, and Lucero also had 11 including three treys.
Mickens scored 10.
“The second half we played with a lot of energy,” Kruger said. “We gave up 27 points in the first half. That’s a high for us. We have to learn from that and start better. But I’m proud of our kids on how they responded.”
Liberal only allowed 17 points in the second half while scoring 31.
“It’s a big win for us to start 1-0 in the WAC,” Kruger said. “We need to get the engines running. We have two more WAC games next week.
No. 10 Liberal (6-1) will host Garden City (2-4) at 6 p.m. Tuesday in The Big House.