March 7 – “There’s honor in the climb”, said Coach Chip Sodemann in an interview with KSDK sports anchor, Frank Cusumano in advance of his team’s Sectional game vs. Jennings.
Sure, Coach Sodemann and the Liberty Eagles basketball team would much prefer to keep climbing. The Eagles were one good play or one less bad thing from happening in their Sectional game vs. Jennings from advancing to play in the Elite Eight round of the Missouri State Championship.
In just it’s fourth year of existence and really second year playing Varsity basketball, the Eagles found themselves playing in a game many programs wait decades or longer to enjoy. The Eagles went 4-13 (2014-15), 7-19 (2015-16) to then make the big jump finishing 21-7 (2016-17). To say the Eagles have embraced climbing the mountain would be a major understatement.
After a rough start to the game, Liberty did enough right to only trail 15-10 after the first quarter. The Eagles came out in the second quarter and got the ball in the hands of their scorers. Kaleb Overall got five points in the first 71 seconds of the quarter to tie the game at 15. Overall would knock down a three pointer as the half came to a close to give the Eagles a 21-19 halftime advantage.
Key to the Eagles run was the foul trouble they put Jennings in, specifically Kyle Younge. Younge spent time on the bench guarding against a potential third foul in the first half, allowing the Eagles to focus their defensive attention on Jennings other top scorer, Rajae’ Johnson.
If anyone thought the Eagles would be overwhelmed playing in a game of this magnitude, their performance early in the third quarter answered any questions. The Eagles scored on their first three offensive possessions of the second half, producing a 27-21 lead with just over 5 minutes remaining in the quarter.
Jennings responded, relying on their defense to create offense. Latrell Jones converted a steal into a 3 point play and Younge would knock down a three pointer after another Eagles turnover and within a span of 20 seconds the 6 point Liberty lead was gone.
The two teams would trade punches with multiple lead changes until Jaylen Sims knocked down three point baskets on consecutive possessions giving the Eagles a 5 point lead with just over 1 minute remaining the quarter. The quarter would finish with the Eagles leading 41-38.
“They just made a couple more plays down the stretch. Give credit to Jennings,” Eagles coach Chip Sodemann said to STLToday.com. “I thought our game plan was solid. I was proud of the way our guys battled. I don’t think a lot of people gave us a chance.”
The four seniors who played their last high school game on Tuesday have a lot to be proud of. “I haven’t had to do this in four years. One of the hardest things as a coach is to say goodbye to seniors,” Sodemann said in his post game interview with STLToday.com. “Our first couple years on varsity, we were getting thumped pretty good. It would have been easy to quit. But, I’m really proud of them for sticking it out. They’ll always be a really special group of kids because they were the first ones to go through.”