By Brad Morris
BALTIMORE — When Liberty Union is faced with a tight game, as it was on Monday against visiting Circleville, sophomore guard Abbie Riddle understands her role.
“As soon as I get into a rhythm, I understand my role is to help our team win,” she said. “If I can score, then I score. If I can pass and get one of my teammates open, then I can do that.
“We want to win, and my job as a leader on the team is helping my team win.”
Riddle helped lead the Lions to victory by pouring in 15 of her game-high 30 points to lead a pivotal fourth quarter run and defeat the Tigers 55-46 in a Mid-State League Buckeye Division game.
“Abbie was ready to close that game, and she was incredible,” Liberty Union coach Andy Schmitz said.
The Liberty Union win snapped Circleville’s 29-game league winning streak dating back to 2019, and more importantly sets up a league championship game on Wednesday in Circleville between the Lions (16-5, 10-2) and Tigers (16-4, 10-1).
Schmitz was pleased to see the Lions bounce back from a tough 47-46 loss last Friday against top-seeded Worthington Christian in a Division III Central District final.
“We had our chances in that game but it didn’t go our way. We talked about responding to adversity (on Sunday) in practice,” he said. “We still had a pretty big goal in front of us (starting on Monday), and I’m really proud of the way our girls refocused, regrouped and played to beat a very solid team like Circleville.”
Riddle, who has already received a number of Division I offers, shot a perfect 5 of 5 during the final quarter to lead a 19-11 run.
The sophomore guard opened the period with a triple from the right wing to stake the Lions to a 39-35 lead.
Following three free throws courtesy of Delaney Peck, Riddle knocked down her second trey of the quarter, this time from the left wing, to give the Lions a 46-39 lead and force a CHS timeout with 4:48 remaining.
The Lions led by no fewer than five points the rest of the way, and Riddle closed the game by scoring the final seven points for LU on an old-fashioned three-point play, a layup and put a cap on the win by draining a pair of free throws.
“I got into a good flow offensively shooting the basketball, but I have to credit my teammates for doing a great job of getting me the basketball and giving me good opportunities,” Riddle said.
Ashland-bound Kenzie McConnell led Circleville with a double-double of 27 points and 11 rebounds. McConnell scored the first five points for the Tigers during the fourth quarter, but was held scoreless for the final 4:45 of the game and attempted just one shot.
“We wanted to speed Circleville up some by pressuring them and making them take shots sooner and from spots that they probably didn’t want to,” Schmitz said. “McConnell is a tremendous player and had a monster game, but anytime we could get her to catch the basketball away from the paint, we considered that a win defensively.”
Circleville coach Steve Kalinoski was pleased with the way McConnell was utilized in the first three quarters and will look to make adjustments in Wednesday’s rematch.
“We were able to get Kenzie driving to the basket and scoring for most of the game, but Liberty Union made a nice adjustment in the fourth quarter to make it tougher on us,” he said. “I felt like we still needed to run the basketball through Kenzie more and have her take more shots down the stretch, and we’ll have to work on counteracting what they did for Wednesday.”
The Tigers finished the game with 16 turnovers, 10 of which came in the first half, compared to 11 for the Lions.
“It felt like we had some carryover from the Vinton County game (when CHS committed 21 turnovers in a 58-29 district final loss), and we were sloppy and made some poor decisions with the basketball,” Kalinoski said. “I felt like we adjusted and did a better job in the second half, but overall that’s too many turnovers to beat a pretty solid team like Liberty Union.”
Caroline Berlekamp followed Riddle with 11 points and six rebounds for the Lions and Peck chipped in five points.
Morgan Blakeman had four of her seven points in the final period for the Tigers.
“Morgan was more in control handling the basketball and made a few shots to try and keep us in it during the fourth quarter,” Kalinoski said.
Kalinoski said the Tigers are excited to get another shot at the Lions on Wednesday as they attempt to repeat as league champions.
“It was a hard-fought game and to Liberty Union’s credit they made a few more plays than we did and deserved to win the game,” he said. “I told the girls after the game that we’ll get another shot at Liberty Union on Wednesday, on our home floor, and that it’s a great opportunity.
“Kids grow up dreaming about having an opportunity to play for a championship, and both teams will be playing for that on Wednesday.”
Liberty Union 55,
CIRCLEVILLE — Faith Yancey 2-0-4, Logan Jones 1-0-2, Morgan Blakeman 3-0-7, Gabby McConnell 0-2-2, Lily Winter 2-0-4, Kenzie McConnell 10-7-27. Three-point goals — Blakeman. Total — 18-38 9-10 46.
LIBERTY UNION — Arica Keiffer 1-0-3, Abbie Riddle 10-5-30, Ember McClaskey 1-1-3, Delaney Peck 1-3-5, Caroline Berlekamp 5-1-11, Maggie Cundiff 1-0-3. Three-point goals — Riddle (5), Keiffer, Cundiff. Total — 19-36 10-16 55.
Quarter scores 1 2 3 4 F
Circleville 10 15 10 11 46
Liberty Union 13 15 8 19 55
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