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It wasn’t bad enough that Liberty saw its hopes for a Seminole District tournament title vanish along with its 11- point lead.
It wasn’t painful enough to watch Brookville’s Logan Thomas drain a three-pointer with 25 seconds remaining, to give the Bees their first lead of the game.
It wasn’t quite harsh enough for the Minutemen to see the Bees glom together in celebration at mid-court. That party started when Liberty’s Justin Martin’s last-gasp trey attempt fell no-good, and the Bees claimed a 52-49 victory.
No, the cherry on the Minutemen’s sad sundae was when the post-game trophy ceremony took place. That’s when the Bees, in addition to being named tournament titleists, were awarded the trophy for being co-regular season champs.
Actually, the Minutemen were awarded their co-champion trophy and individual medals first.
Correction. It never quite made it that far.
The Liberty players, who had beaten Brookville in a one-game playoff the previous Friday, were stunned when they were introduced as co-champs by the Brookville master of ceremonies.
Minuteman Ryan Nichols reluctantly accepted the trophy and only a couple of the players accepted their medals before the Brookville gym melted down in confusion.
In the end, Liberty Head Coach Jeff Monroe hurried his men into the locker room. Presumably, the Liberty players picked up their hardware on the way out the door.
The confusion stems from a couple of factors:
1. Both Liberty and Brookville finished the season with 10-2 records.
2. Normally, they would have been declared co-champions.
3. In this case, a play-in game took place the Friday before. Liberty won that game, 61-51, at Staunton River.
Now, from Liberty’s perspective, that win made the Minutemen the winners of the Seminole District and the top seed from the District for Regional play.
In defense of that opinion, this newspaper declared Liberty the regular season champions, based on that single game win.
From a Brookville perspective, the only thing that the play-in game did was determine the seedings for Regional playoffs.
A review of District by-laws is unclear on the matter.
Section 9, paragraph 4 reads: “The regular season winner shall be declared the District Champion and shall advance to the regional tournament as the district number one (#1) seed..”
That rule seems to support the Liberty position.
Section 9, Paragraph 5.1, however, reads in part: “All ties, for which an automatic regional berth is involved, shall be determined by a playoff at a neutral site...”
That rule seems to support the Brookville position, as did Liberty AD Scott Craig. After the game, he accepted much of the blame for not communicating to his team beforehand that Liberty was, indeed, co-champion with Brookville.
“In the Seminole District, we play no ties off for a championship,” he said. “In no other sport have we played off. Don’t blame Brookville. They followed the handbook.”
On the court, however, nobody was asking to look at a handbook. The Liberty players found their nerves being plucked by hooligans seated behind the scorer’s table. Several of the Liberty players tried to charge the crowd but were held back by coaches, sheriff’s deputies and fellow players.
Much of the ugly scene might have been avoided had the Minutemen prevailed in the tourney’s final game.
Oh, yeah. The game.
Logan Thomas put on a display of leadership and basketball skill, in driving a late-game surge for the Bees.
With under a minute left in the third quarter, Thomas sank a pair of free throws to cut the Liberty lead to 39-30.
The Virginia Tech-bound big man then pegged a three-pointer and followed that up with a thundering dunk, which seemed to lift the entire Brookville side.
While Liberty countered with an Anthony Reynolds three-point play and Carlton Payne’s resounding block of a Josh Spigner jumper, the crowd was clearly energized.
Thomas seemed to feed off of that energy, taking it end-to-end to bring the Bees to within 6 points, 46-40.
His three-pointer from one o’clock made it 46-43 with three minutes remaining.
Then his drive through the key fell good, and he picked up a foul. Converting the three-point play, Thomas had brought his team within a point.
Kordero Thomas, always a cool customer, sank two free throws to give his Minutemen a three-point edge.
Thomas hit a free throw to make it 49-47 in favor of Liberty.
But with 25 seconds remaining, Thomas did what everyone on the Brookville side hoped he would: He swished a trey from that same one o’clock spot to give Brookville a one-point lead.
Alec Thompson fouled Liberty’s Chris Harmon on an attempted steal, but the senior was unable to convert the one-and-one.
Corby Weiss grabbed the rebound and was, in turn, fouled.
Weiss, too, couldn’t convert the one-and-one. But, his miss was knocked out of bounds by Liberty.
Dead-eye Jared King wound up at the free throw stripe and knocked back both of his chances.
With 11 seconds left, Liberty’s Martin was brought in. The three-point specialist was smothered, however, and had to force his shot as time expired. Thompson hugged the rebound, and the game was in the books.
-If there had been any question about the merits of awarding Thomas the player of the year award, his performance put those doubts to bed. His 26 points and 12 rebound dominated the game.
-Liberty’s Thompson led the Minutemen with 13 points.Payne had 9. Nichols and Reynolds each had 8.
-Martin hit two straight three-pointers in the second quarter to break open a tie game. On the second one, however, he appeared to catch a stray shot to the mouth and had to leave with a bloody lip.
-Festivities and controversies aside, the fact remains that Liberty still has the #1 seed in Region III, Div. 3. As such, it doesn’t play until this Friday. The Minutemen will play the winner of the Fort Defiance-Northside game (played Tuesday, after press time). Liberty’s game will take place at Brookville, the regional host.
-Brookville, as the #2 seed, played R.E. Lee this past Tuesday, in Staunton. The winner of that game will face the Blue Ridge #1 seed, Lord Botetourt.
-Liberty-Brookville was played right after the girls’ championship game. With so much interest in the four teams involved, it led to a cozy crowd at the Bee Hive. Fans were lined against both end walls for a good portion of the game.
With two brand-spanking-new gyms in the District, it is puzzling why they (JF, Staunton River) were not used for the championship.