Written by SportsDayDFW.com
Tops in TAPPS
Liberty Christian girls rally to win state title
ARLINGTON — For much of Saturday’s TAPPS 5A state championship game, it looked like Plano John Paul II would finally top Liberty Christian on the biggest stage possible, after losing twice to Liberty in district play by a combined 19 points during the regular season.
But the third time was a charm for the Lady Warriors, who used a thrilling comeback to top the Cardinals 62-58 to win a state championship after two consecutive years of finishing as runners-up in the 4A classification.
Liberty started the game in a 16-2 hole and never led until less than three minutes remained in the game. But junior Nicole Kornet heard the final buzzer sound after a rebound, tossed the ball to the rafters and took off running the length of the floor while her teammates celebrated at midcourt.
“They were all in the little huddle,” Kornet said, laughing. “I just had so much energy. I didn’t know what I was doing. I just knew the buzzer had sounded and there was no more game to be played, and we had won the game.”
Kornet was a starter for Liberty the past two seasons when the Lady Warriors fell to Houston Westbury in the Class 4A final, but was able to get her team over the hump after moving up to the largest classification in TAPPS prior to the 2010-11 school year.
The forward finished with a game-high 28 points and eight rebounds, and combined with senior Summer Fife to score 21 of Liberty’s 22 fourth-quarter points. Fife finished the game with 19 points.
The duo was forced to shoulder the load after junior post Nia Jackson fouled out with 5:13 remaining, finishing the game with nine points and pulling down several rebounds.
Jackson, Fife and Kornet have provided the majority of Liberty’s point production all season on a team which has played at most seven players in a game this season, and only five or six for some games.
“Nia was gone and I don’t want to be selfish, but sometimes you have to know that you have to go and take over the game,” Kornet said. “And I knew the girl I was guarding, I could take her. And if I had to, I could dish out to Summer.”
The potent duo combined to shoot 5-for-17 from the field in the first half, and it showed on the scoreboard.
With just more than five minutes gone to start the game, the Lady Warriors trailed 16-2, and they trailed by 10 points going into the locker room at halftime.
“I think we understood the reality at halftime,” Liberty head coach Ken Burroughs said. “There’s no tomorrow. I just told them they had two quarters left, and it wasn’t like we’d get another chance.”
To start the second half, things weren’t much better for Liberty (38-2), as John Paul II stayed hot from the floor after back-to-back 3-pointers to close the first half. A three-point play and a 3-pointer from Lexi Bianchin quickly turned the Cardinals’ 10-point lead into 16 points just a minute into the half.
After that, Liberty went on an 11-3 run, which was sparked by a defensive change and the fact that Fife and Kornet combined to shoot 60 percent from the field after halftime.
Due to their limited numbers, the Lady Warriors haven’t been able to employ much full-court pressure defense this season, but after Brandi Trost hit one of two foul shots with 3:38 left in the third quarter, they threw everything they had at the Cardinals (26-13).
By the end of the third quarter, the defensive spark helped Liberty cut the John Paul II lead to 45-40, but Alysia Brown made two quick buckets for the Cardinals to stretch the lead to 49-42.
That’s when the Lady Warriors took over.
Fife hit a 3-pointer, and on the inbounds pass, Kornet picked up a steal and dished it back to Fife, who missed a layup but drew a foul and hit both of her free throws.
In the midst of a 16-4 run, the Lady Warriors took their first lead of the game on a Fife offensive rebound to put Liberty up 53-52 with 2:42 remaining.
Kornet said the full-court press for nearly 12 minutes of game time was well worth the pain she might feel today.
“I’m worn out, yes,” she said. “When he [Burroughs] said ‘press’ I was excited. We know, in our press, we can be good. It’s been rough and we haven’t done it lately, but that’s what changed the game around. They were freaking out and nervous. I don’t think their coach was expecting that.”
Burroughs added: “We’ve had to play games with people hurt, and we’ve played with six people at other times. That’s what we had to do to finish the game. [Jackson] was out, but we’ve had that before and won.”
And for Kornet, as she lied at midcourt hugging Jackson in the wild celebration, the win erased the negative feelings she had from her previous trips to the state tournament.
“I have no words to describe what I’m feeling right now,” she said. “It’s incredible. I saw the sadness in their [John Paul II] faces, and I’ve been there twice. To be on the other side is amazing. It’s a dream come true.”
ADAM BOEDEKER can be reached at 940-566-6872. His e-mail address is email@example.com .
Liberty Christian 62, John Paul II 58
John Paul II
Liberty Christian (38-2) — Courtney Copeland 1, Brittany Holbert 2, Nicole Kornet 28, Summer Fife 19, Cameron Gannon 2, Nia Jackson 9, Brandi Trost 1.
John Paul II (26-13) — Meaghan Hoover 5, Lexi Bianchin 12, Blair Taylor 11, Hunter Schwantz 17, Kelsey Sweeney 4, Claire Ricketts 9.