In a normal year, high school basketball teams start the season in early December as the dark hours grow long and the colors of fall give way to a blanket of snow. Teams typically have two weeks of practice, as mandated by the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association (WIAA), then open the season with a couple of non-league games, and maybe a holiday tournament, before ramping up to their league schedule just after Christmas.
Then they build toward district and regional tournaments in mid to late February, the ultimate goal being an appearance at the WIAA Hardwood Classic in early March.
Proving this year is anything but normal, Liberty Bell’s Mountain Lions opened the season last week on three consecutive nights at home, Tuesday through Thursday (May 25-27), sweeping Pateros, splitting a close loss by the girls and a boys’ win against Lake Roosevelt, and reversing the split with the Warriors of Almira-Coulee-Hartline. Both programs are off to a 2-1 start in the belated and shortened season.
• Liberty Bell 53, Pateros 38: The Mountain Lions opened up the season by hosting the Pateros Nannies and Billy Goats, with the girls winning the opener, 53-38, and the boys pulling away in the second half for a 63-40 victory.
The girls were led by Jadyn Mitchell’s double-double of 22 points and 19 rebounds. Mitchell added 5 assists and 4 steals to her game-leading totals. The Mountain Lions led from the start, essentially a wire-to-wire win over their 1B neighbors to the south. Ruby McCarthy added 10 points as the only other Lion in double figures. Aleeka Miller-Smith and Tea Asmussen led the Nannies with nine points each.
• Lake Roosevelt 52, Liberty Bell 51: If there was one thing that did offer a sense of normalcy, it would be the one-point, hard-fought, competitive game between the Mountain Lions and Raiders. Sammy Curtis led the way for the home team with 19 points and Mitchell chalked up her second double-double in two nights, dropping 14 points and nabbing 12 rebounds. This game went back and forth and remained close the entire way. Lake Roosevelt led 27-21 at the half, but the Lions came roaring back in the third, outscoring the Raiders 19-12 to take a 41-40 lead into the final period. The fourth quarter was a see-saw battle, the Raiders finally gaining the lead with about 15 seconds to go, 52-48.
Liberty Bell had one last chance and the Raiders obliged, fouling Curtis on a drive to the hoop with 2.1 seconds remaining. Her shot fell through the twine and coach Stephanie Mitchell immediately called time out, ostensibly to set up a play off of an intentional missed free throw attempt by Curtis. But the attempt at the miss hit the rim and dropped through the net. Lake Roosevelt safely passed the ball inbounds, the clock ran out, and the Raiders clung to the one-point win.
• Liberty Bell 61, Almira-Coulee-Hartline 45: It took a while, two full quarters and part of the second half, for the Mountain Lions to get things rolling against the 1B Warriors, but they eventually warmed up and combined a shooting streak with some stifling defense to secure their second win of the year. Liberty Bell trailed ACH at the half by 29-23, and came out in the early third quarter with a 7-0 run, Madi Surface hitting a three pointer at the 5:49 mark to put the home team up 30-29.
But the Lions went cold and the Warriors had an answer as they went on a run of their own to lead at the end of the third, 40-34. Shae Taylor, returning to the floor after a first quarter head-on collision with an official, literally, hit a three-point shot early in the fourth to pull the Lions within one at 40-39. Fueled by some hot shooting by Surface in transition and from the arc, and some great defensive pressure, Liberty Bell outscored the Warriors 27-5, cruising to the 61-45 win.
Surface led the Lions with 22 points and 7 steals, with Curtis chipping in 15 points. Mitchell extended her double-double streak to three games, scoring 10 points and grabbing 10 rebounds.
• Cumulative scoring through 3 games: Jadyn Mitchell 46, Madi Surface 38, Sammy Curtis 37, Ruby McCarthy 20, Shae Taylor 13, Caitlyn Cooley 12, Liv Aspholm 5.
• Liberty Bell 63, Pateros 40: The Mountain Lions opened their 2021 season with a strong 23-point win over the neighboring 1B Billygoats, emphasizing defensive pressure and transition basketball to hold Pateros to 40 points.
Sophomore Riley Lidey led the Lions with 13 points and Isaiah Stoothoff added 11, while the rest of the roster reflected a balanced attack with six players scoring between 4 and 7 points. Liberty Bell showed an ability to score in bunches, dropping 32 points in the second quarter when they doubled up Pateros’ 16 points, and putting the game out of reach in the fourth quarter with an 18-7 tally.
• Liberty Bell 58, Lake Roosevelt 56: “It’s been a while,” acknowledged coach Kyle Acord of the Mountain Lions’ narrow 58-56 victory over the visiting Raiders. “It’s probably been about five or six years since we’ve been able to beat them.” It took some solid defense, and then some heart to hold on.
The Raiders got off to an 18-10 lead at the end of the first quarter. The Mountain Lions came back to outscore Lake Roosevelt in the second quarter, 16-12, with Tyler Darwood tallying 9 of Liberty Bell’s second-quarter points. The Raiders were on top 30-26 at the half. The Lions won the third quarter, 13-8, and found themselves up by one point, 39-38 as the fourth got underway.
Dusty Patterson led the Mountain Lions’ 18-point fourth quarter with 9 of his own as Liberty Bell won the final frame, 19-18, and the game, 58-56. Darwood and Patterson each scored 15 points; Nolan Falcon-George added 13.
• Almira-Coulee-Hartline 61, Liberty Bell 34: The perennial state 1B tournament-contending Warriors wasted no time in demonstrating they would be ready and willing to again make a trip to Spokane if only it were a possibility this year. It isn’t, but that hasn’t slowed them down. Big man Reece Isaak took charge and led his team to an easy victory over the hosting Mountain Lions, who may have been showing some signs of weary legs in their third straight night of competitive action.
Isaak poured in 24 points, mostly from in the paint, where his size and physicality were dominant. Grady Murray added 21 points for the Warriors. Falcon-George led the Mountain Lions with 8 points, with Darwood and Patterson adding 6 each.
• Cumulative scoring through 3 games: Tyler Darwood 28, Dusty Patterson 28, Nolan Falcon-George 27, Riley Lidey 19, Isaiah Stoothoff 17, Sawyer Crandall 11, Kyler Mitchell 8, Lucaas Gonzalez-Ortega 7, Eli Neithlich 6, Grey Patterson 4.
Liberty Bell basketball takes this week off for Senior Graduation Week, with the commencement parade and ceremonies on Friday evening. Basketball picks up again next Tuesday (June 8) when the Mountain Lions travel to Manson to take on the Trojans. The wrestlers travel to Cascade High School in Leavenworth on Wednesday.