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Young Lions overcome postseason jitters, roll into Sectional 55 semifinals

Feb. 27—SHARPSVILLE — By this point in the calendar, freshmen have played a full season and are no longer considered first-year players by many coaches,

But the postseason is just different and, when a team like Liberty Christian relies heavily on its younger players they way they do, their coach was happy to survive the first outing.

"I'm so glad that game is over with," LC coach Norm Anderson said. "The postseason is different. In the regular season, you lose, have a practice and then there's another game. Here, it's win or go home. When we got the draw and had this first game, I was super excited to get those jitters out of the way and now we're ready to roll."

Freshman T.J. English scored 16 points to lead all players while his freshman teammate Tywaine Fuller added 11 points and 3 assists and the Lions pulled away from a stubborn Anderson Prep squad for a 71-49 victory in the quarterfinal round of Sectional 55 at Tri-Central High School.

The Lions moved to 14-9 with their fourth straight win this year and improved to 16-1 all-time against their crosstown rivals in the first sectional meeting between the two. The Lions will now face the host Trojans in the second semifinal Friday night on Dave Driggs Court.

The season ends at 4-19 as the Jets closed on a nine-game losing skid.

Even the young players for LC realized how important it was to get their first postseason experience under their belts.

"It's a different time of the year and I don't want to go home and our seniors aren't ready to go home," English said.

The loss of a key player to foul trouble proved to be a bad early omen for the Jets.

Junior guard Camron Anderson picked up his second foul just 3 minutes into the game with APA holding a slim 5-4 lead. With their strongest ball handler seated next to coach Ryan Fathauer for the balance of the first period, the Jets struggled mightily with the Liberty pressure defense.

"We handled their press early, but when I took him out, they really took advantage of it," coach Fathauer said. "I'm kind of kicking myself, but it's kind of a pick-your-poison."

The Jets committed 12 turnovers on their next 13 possessions and the Lions capitalized to the tune of 13 straight points.

A Fuller jumper started the run and, when senior Jerramie Johnson hit a wing jumper to cap the run, Liberty was in command with a 19-5 lead.

But the Jets were not about to fold.

Lincoln Fathauer scored the last 5 points of the first quarter on a 3-point jumper and a pair of free throws and Anderson—fresh off the bench—canned a 3-pointer to open the second quarter as APA pulled within 6 points.

Again, the Lions turned to their talented trio of freshmen for the answer.

Fuller scored on the inside off an offensive rebound by English before Kendrick Martin hit a pair of baskets to push the lead back to double digits at 25-13 before the Lions headed to halftime with a 31-20 lead.

English scored 8 straight third quarter points as the Lions grew the lead to 41-26.

Marquis Kelley capped the period with a 3-point basket—his only field goal of the game—as LC took a 50-33 lead and never looked back over the final eight minutes.

Haralson added 10 points and led the Lions with 6 rebounds while Lincoln Fathauer had 15 points and Camron Anderson scored a dozen for the Jets.

While APA returns much of their talent—including Fathauer and Anderson—they do graduate 5 seniors. Coach Fathauer says Samar Nave, Makel Brown, J'vion Chatman, Letarius Stevens, and Zayden Finley will be missed.

"A lot of times, when there's a new coach that comes in there is resistance from the older guys who are set in their ways," he said. "I'll hand it to these seniors, they bought in early and showed up for everything."

Sectional 55 now moves to the semifinal round Friday as Delaware County rivals Daleville (12-9) faces Cowan (10-11) at 6 p.m. before LC meets the 13-9 host Trojans in the second game.

"We're going to overlook nobody," coach Anderson said. "Tri-Central is going to come in here to beat us. For us, we just need to execute our game plan and we'll be fine."

Contact Rob Hunt at rob.hunt@heraldbulletin.com or 765-640-4886.