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Strong post play adds dimension to Liberty’s offense in win over Fauquier

Friday, Dec. 19 | By Jeff Malmgren
Liberty's Allison Croushorn had 17 points, 12 rebounds and three steals during a 63-32 win over Fauquier on Friday in Warrenton. --Fauquier Times Staff Photo/Randy Litzinger
Makaela Kestner smiled more often than she scored Friday.

Her Liberty Eagles still beat the Fauquier Falcons by more than 30 points on the road in Warrenton, 63-32.

Kestner spent a lot of time grinning because, during one stretch in the third quarter, a Fauquier defender consistently face-guarded her 20 feet from the basket to keep the ball out of her hands. It looked like a defensive back playing press-coverage against a wide receiver.

That was an extreme example of how Fauquier focused its defense on Liberty's perimeter players. The Falcons also began the game playing a triangle-and-two defense hoping to contain Kestner and fellow guard Ashley Lane.

The plan was better in theory than in practice.

"We didn't realize when they threw [shots] up and they missed it, those big girls were going to rebound and stick it back in," Falcons coach Gary Croson said of Liberty's post players. "It's tough to compete against that."

Post player Allison Croushorn finished the game with 12 rebounds and 17 points to help lead Liberty to victory.

Fauquier did hold Kestner to six points, as she appeared to play passively at times when she got the ball in her hands. Lane, on the other hand, tore through every defensive look the Falcons offered. She scored a game-high 26 points and often conducted Liberty's fantastic transition offense with seven steals and four assists.

"Just tough, aggressive," Croson said of Lane.

"She goes really strong to the basket," Croushorn said, "and she doesn't let anyone stop her."

Croushorn helped create space for Lane. The junior post scored eight points in the opening six minutes of the first quarter, including a pair of three-point plays. So Fauquier (1-6) had to quickly switch out of that triangle-and-two defense.

Croson used that defensive look at first because Liberty (5-1) already has a reputation as a guard-led team thanks to the prowess of Lane, Kestner and Sydney Williams.

"Our guards can shoot and handle really well,' Croushorn said. "So [defenses] pressure them more, which leaves us [open] down low and gives us more opportunities."

Croushorn's breakout game Friday added another dimension to the Eagles' offense.

"She's coming on strong," Eagles coach Ryan Washington said. "It helps because that's another option. With any team, if you expect to go [far], you've got to have some post play."

Croushorn also helped Liberty's offense with seven rebounds on that end of the floor. In fact, the Eagles finished with 18 offensive rebounds and had 48 total rebounds to Fauquier's 35.

Liberty's play in the post was a focus of practices leading up to the game against Fauquier, Croushorn said.

"A lot of time went in this week with those guys," Eagles assistant coach Gary Carter said. "I told them [the game Friday] was like an SOL test. 'You better pass it, too.'"

They did.

Croushorn also played a new role in Liberty's full-court press – the lifeblood of their transition offense. She moved to the top of that press to pair with Lane as they tried to fluster Fauquier's guards after inbound passes.

Washington implemented that change Thursday, Croushorn said. Despite such short notice, the Eagles amassed 22 steals against Fauquier.

"We're so athletic, and we're really good at anticipating the passes," Lane said.

The Falcons finished with 29 turnovers. Their 10 turnovers in the first quarter led to an 18-7 Liberty lead.

The Eagles used a press most of the game to build a 36-13 halftime lead, a 49-24 advantage at the end of the third quarter, and a 57-28 lead early in the fourth. Lane converted five of her steals directly into layups.

"It's hard to match a team that's going to get a steal and a bucket on you every other time down the floor," Croson said. "Their transition game is by far the best we've seen."

Two of Lane's steal-and-layup plays came midway through the third quarter. In fact, during a 90-second span, she had all nine points scored by either team.

"It's just the flow of the game," Lane said of her scoring. "There's going to be games where Makaela gets 30 and I have five. It's just how we play. We're really good at seeing who's hot and who's not, and just playing off of it."

Williams also struggled to find her shooting stroke Friday, finishing with three points and three steals. Croushorn had three steals, too, while Kestner had eight rebounds, seven steals and two assists. Lane added seven rebounds and Jerrin Garnett had five.

For Fauquier, Laura Diaz had 11 points and four rebounds. She went coast-to-coast for a couple of layups.

"Very talented," Croson said. "Now we've got to get the rest of the girls to keep up with her" in transition.

Alissa Lewis added six points while Megan Diehl had five points, six rebounds and three steals, and Marissa Croson had six rebounds.

"This was probably one of the better games that we've played, against a good team," Gary Croson said. "We have gone six games without getting one rotation through our offense, so we changed it up a little bit to make it a little more simple. The girls actually ran the offense and got some shots they were looking for.

"Great effort," he said. "We're making gains."

Nonetheless, Fauquier fell to 0-5 in Conference 22, having played every team in the league.

"Liberty is the best team we've seen," Croson said. "Their speed and athleticism — we were out-manned."

The Eagles, however, aren't undefeated in Conference 22 play. They began the season with a 63-45 road loss to Chancellor and have a 4-1 conference record.

"We've definitely gotten better since last time we played them," Lane said of the Chargers. "We're a lot more confident and we know each other a lot better."

The rematch with Chancellor will be Jan. 15 in Bealeton.

"I think we can definitely take them," Croushorn said.

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