It turned out to be a slow start in District 6 tournament play for the Liberty Bell High School boys in the first round of the 2024 post season. The favored Mountain Lions went stone cold in the fourth quarter last Friday night at home, scoring only four points as Okanogan broke open a tight game to win by 20, 60-40.
The Mountain Lions had no answer for 6-foot, 4-inch junior Carter Kuchenbuch, who scored a balanced 23 points, 12 in the first half and 11 in the second.
Defensively, Kuchenbuch managed Liberty Bell’s senior post Kyler Mitchell, getting his hands on several shots, forcing shooting adjustments on others and denying attempts by Mountain Lion guards to get the ball into the 6-foot, 5-inch senior center, who was limited him to just three points on a single second quarter field goal and one free throw.
Remi Paz, who opened the game with a three-point bucket from the corner, led the Mountain Lions with 17 points and had several steals defensively. Morgan Spellman was the only other Mountain Lion in double figures with 10 points.
“No comment,” was the initial response from Liberty Bell coach Ryan Surface, searching post-game for an answer to the “what happened” question.
“We thought we were ready to play, but it just looked like it was one of those mentally puzzling nights,” Surface concluded. The Mountain Lions hit only three of 10 free throws on the evening in the loss to a team they had beaten by 18 points just three weeks earlier.
Earlier in the week, on Tuesday night (Jan. 30) Liberty Bell entertained a nearly full house on Senior Night. The Mountain Lions celebrated the careers of three graduating seniors, Kyler Mitchell, Brody Barnhart and junior varsity player Omar Ortega.
The three seniors opened the game as starters against the visiting Oroville Hornets, Ortega’s first and only varsity experience. It was only appropriate that on this night, the crowd’s loudest outburst came a couple of minutes into the game when Ortega, wearing his JV uniform, took a pass at the bottom of the lane for a lay-in and his only career varsity field goal. He would tally a free throw late in the game, but the day in was, in his words, “really special,” in front of family, friends and the Liberty Bell student body.
Barnhart also got into the scorebook on the evening as the Mountain Lions rolled to a 74-41 victory to close out the regular season. Bodie Thomson led all scorers with 16 points, Kyler Mitchell hit for 15 and Morgan Spellman tallied 11 points.
The Mountain Lions continue their District 6 adventure on Friday afternoon (Feb. 9) in the O-Zone at Omak High School when they face Manson at 4:30 p.m.
Liberty Bell has escaped with two closely fought battles with the Trojans at home and away this season. Both teams will advance to the Feb. 17 District 6 & 7 Crossover tournament, opponents and sites to be determined later. Each winner in that set of six games will advance to the regional round of the 2024 state tournament.