PHOENIX — The Liberty Lions gave it their best shot in the opening round of the 6A playoffs, but in the end coach Ashley Leparulo said mistakes were their undoing.
#12 seed Liberty (21-15) took a 25-19, 25-17, 32-30 setback to the Phoenix Xavier Prep Gators.
Leparulo knew #5 seed and defending 6A champ Xavier (30-11) would be a tough opponent, but she was happy her team stayed with the Gators.
“We fought hard and we came in with the mentality that we could be competitive,” Leparulo said. “It’s so hard to know (the outcome) based on records.”
With Xavier holding a 2-0 lead Liberty did whatever was possible to keep it close in the third set, as the teams wound up tied at 22 and 24-all.
The Lions got help from everyone of its starters. Xavier had the ball tipped out of bounds, but the Gators came back with blocks senior middle blocker Quinn Voorhees.
The Lions played good defense into forcing Xavier into mistakes of their own, as sophomore outside hitter Kaitlyn Neal, senior middle hitter Gracie Newbern added kills, senior setter Madelyn Neal came up with attacks to keep it interesting.
With the score tied at 30, Xavier got a pair of spikes from senior middle blocker Jasmine Knight to end the game.
As tough as the outcome was, especially in the lengthy third game, no lead is safe Leparulo said.
“I think you’re always on pins and needles and you just hope they can make it through,” she said. “think the whole team – the starters and the bench cheered us on.”
In the second game, Liberty jumped out to an early 10-7 lead, but Xavier rallied to catch the Lions at 11-all. Xavier went on a 14-6 run to pull away. Liberty got a variety of tips and kills from junior setter Grace Senseman, sophomore outside hitter Kylie Davey and junior middle hitter Maranda Schneberger.
Leparulo just wanted her players to be consistent, but in the end, mistakes were costly she said.
“It’s just the team that makes fewer errors, and we made more errors, and that’s tough.” She said. “In the first game it came down to too many errors.”
The Lions made progress in their second season in the loaded 6A. Last year, Liberty lost a play-in game to Mesa Skyline.