December 14th – Ft. Zumwalt South High School – When a season is over players and coaches often look back at one particular moment when a team truly realized they could accomplish something special. The Liberty Eagles Varsity Boys basketball team may have experienced that moment Tuesday night at Ft. Zumwalt South High School.
Riding a 3 game winning streak, the Eagles took the road to play one of the GAC’s top programs in Ft. Zumwalt South. The Bulldogs of Ft. Zumwalt South have consistently been one of the toughest teams in the St. Louis area for over a decade. While the Bulldogs have started slow this year, it’s a given they will once again be in the mix as the season develops.
The Bulldogs feature a dynamic playmaking guard in Darious Thomas. Coming off a successful football season, sharp shooting Drake Whaley has started to find his range. Sophomore E.J. Bellinger has quickly developed into a leader on the young Bulldog squad, posting double digits in points in every contest this year.
Important for the Eagles would be containing the dribble penetration of Thomas while not losing track of Whaley on the perimeter. Arguably most vital to their success would be limiting second chance points and controlling South’s Chris Jordan on the boards.
Both teams were getting a feel for each other during the first quarter with South holding a slim 16-14 lead. The Eagles opened up the 2nd quarter with a 3 point basket by Andy Jorris to take a 17-16 lead. However the next minute and a half belonged to the Bulldogs. After a long three point make by Darious Thomas, the Bulldogs led 23-17 with 4:40 left in the half.
As they have several times during the early part of the season, the Eagles remained patient and stopped the Bulldogs mini run with a Hayden Henningsen 3 point basket to cut the lead in half. After a great find by Kaleb Overall, Brian Jones converted a layup and then it was Jones on the assist side finding Overall cutting to the basket. The Eagles led 24-23 with 2:50 remaining in the half. The half would end with Liberty ahed 30-26.
The Eagles came out in the 2nd half intent on grabbing their second road win of the year. A Henningsen three pointer followed by an Overall breakaway and dunk gave the Eagles a 9 point lead. The 3rd quarter would end with the Eagles patience once again on display. The Eagles milked the last 1:40 at the end of the quarter to finish with a Kaleb Overall pass and basket cut for a layup and an 8 point Eagles lead after three.
As fast the Eagles started the 3rd quarter, the Bulldogs answered with a similar fast start in the 4th quarter. Three point baskets by Whaley and Jake Patton put the Bulldogs right back in the ball game, trailing 47-41 with just under 6 minutes in the game.
The two teams would exchange baskets and then another 3 point basket by Patton and a few converted dribble drives by Thomas and Bellinger and the game was tied at 51 with 2:27 remaining. After a missed 1 and 1 by Overall, Zumwalt South’s Bellinger was fouled and knocked down two free throws giving the Bulldogs their first lead since early in the 2nd quarter. Once again the Eagles maintained their composure as Brian Jones found Kaleb Overall in the corner with a skip pass for a 3 point basket.
Down 1 with 36.3 seconds remaining the Bulldogs put the ball in their dynamic guard’s hands. Darius Thomas drove the lane but his shot missed short. Fortunately for the Bulldogs, EJ Bellinger was in the right place at the right time and tipped the errant shot in. The Bulldogs now led 55-54 with 15 seconds remaining.
The Eagles moved the ball across half court and called timeout with just over 8 seconds left on the clock. The ball was inbounded by Overall to Sims. Sims passed back to Overall and cut to the ball side short corner. Overall hit Hines on the wing who returned the ball back to Overall. Hines set a screen for Sims cutting to the corner where Overall found Sims for an open jump shot and game winner at the buzzer.
The Eagles moved to 4-1 on the season, winning four games in a row and remained perfect on the road. Both the Eagles and Bulldogs return to action on Thursday as part of the GAC Suburban Challenge. The Eagles play Eureka and Ft. Zumwalt South will play Hazelwood Central.