Liberty point guard Cherelle Demps spent a good portion of Wednesday evening getting up off of the Bellarmine Prep gymnasium floor. The other part of the evening, Demps spent at the free throw line.
Demps hit 13 of 16 free throws, including 6 of 6 in the final 45 seconds of the game, on her way to a career-high 30 points and led Liberty (16-7) to a 62-52 upset victory over second-ranked White River (20-3) in a West Central District 3 2A semifinal game. The win creates an all-KingCo conference final between Liberty and Sammamish 6 p.m. Saturday at Foss High School.
Too quick for the White River guards, Demps was able to consistently get into the lane and attack the tall and talented White River front line of 6-foot Kendall Bird and 6-foot, 2-inch Darian Gore.
“I love the paint, I love the contact,” said Demps who was 8 of 19 from the field. “I’ve been hurt numerous times in my career because I love the contact… I tell my team (not to) be afraid. Shots may or may not fall, depends on the game, but inside, that basket is not going to move. You just need to get to it.”
While Demps was able to get inside the entire game, for the first half that was about all that was going right for Liberty. White River was able to use its height advantage in the opening two quarters and built a 34-24 halftime bulge. Bird led White River with 12 points.
“For them to go out there and display what they did in the first half, that’s not what we worked on,” Liberty head coach Carly Fromdahl said of the Patriots first-half play. “I told them all those three days of practice, that was wasted energy. If you coming out and then display what we did, that’s wasted energy. You need to make (White River) respect how hard we worked the last three days (in practice.)
The Liberty players got the message and then shared it with White River.
White River had turnovers on three of its first four possessions. Liberty opened the second half with a 6-0 run, including 4 points from Samantha Kelderman. After Ashlea Mills scored for the Hornets, Liberty continued to cut into the lead until a 3-pointer by Demps gave the Patriots a 37-36 lead with 4:28 left in the quarter. It was their first lead since an Avery Granberg 3-pointer opened the scoring in the game.
Once Liberty had the lead, they never gave it up. Demps twice hit one of two free throws and then scored on a drive into the lane. That was followed by a Sarah Bliesner 3-pointer and the lead ballooned to 44-36 late in the third quarter.
Meanwhile, the Liberty defense followed its plan and made Bird disappear from the game.
“(Bird) is a really good player. She can drive left really well and she has a good left-handed jumper,” said Kelderman, who, among others, had the responsibility of preventing Bird from dominating inside. “Our focus was mainly just denying her left and keeping her from getting the ball inside. I think we really shut her down in the second half.”
Kelderman, joined by Sydney Argosino and Emily Skinner among others shut out Bird in the second half.
Liberty controlled the fourth quarter and then Demps finished off the game with the free throws.
The Patriots face a familiar foe in Sammamish, a team they handled by 12 and 8 points during the regular season matchups.