With too many turnovers, too many missed free throws and too poor of a shooting percentage, Middleton girls’ basketball coach James Burkley saw plenty of missed opportunities Tuesday night.
But the defending Class A state champion capitalized on Liberty’s late mistakes, and Sequoya Warren made most of her foul shots in the final two minutes, to hang on for a 58-53 win in Jackson.
Middleton (4-0) has won 39 games in a row.
“We didn’t shoot the ball well. Fourteen out of 46 from the two-point shot and two out of nine from the 3 and still come out here with a win? I’ll take that,” Burkley said.
The teams traded leads late in the third quarter and early in the fourth. Liberty’s Courtney Fisher passed to Alexis Smith to tie the game at 51 with 3:30 to go.
But Warren got a key steal in the backcourt about two minutes later, was fouled and made two free throws. She made one of two 12 seconds later.
Fisher made two free throws, but Liberty (1-5) soon turned the ball over in the backcourt again.
“That’s what I was trying to do, trying to hold out until I could get into the fourth quarter — I knew I had to play a short rotation tonight because my two guard [Alexis Pledge] was out — so we could get into that press,” Burkley said. “And that press came through for me in the fourth quarter.”
Burkley credited Warren for her work handling the basketball in Pledge’s absence, but Warren knows there were too many giveaways.
“We’ve got to learn how to handle the ball better,” Warren said.
Liberty trailed Middleton 26-17 late in the first half, but the Lady Crusaders cut the deficit to six by halftime and didn’t let Middleton pull away again.
“They played really well. They played together as a team. Their defense was on point,” Liberty assistant coach Deshawndra Gillispie said of her players. “We’ve had mistakes here and there, but that’s how it is at the beginning of the season. You’re learning a new team and you’re learning how to play together. Overall I’m pretty pleased with them.”
Liberty head coach James Shaw was out with an illness.
Teja Pearson scored 15 points, and Courtney Fisher had eight.
Gillispie liked the team’s effort and will emphasize defense, blocking out and ball movement going forward. She said Jordyn Johnson has shown good progress lately and is being more assertive. Johnson scored eight points.
“Our girls will be OK. They played with a lot of heart tonight,” Gillispie said. “I’m just satisfied with them, just satisfied.”
Warren scored 25 points for Middleton and forward Chelsea Perry had 17. Burkley has also liked the development of junior post and first-time player Cherelle Jones, who scored five points.
“This is a good game for us. We needed this game, on the road and a tough environment there for us, playing a AA team,” Burkley said. “We’re going to learn from this.”
Craig Thomas, 425-9634