Your Prep Sports
MARION – Liberty High could not have scripted a better start.
Then Linn-Mar got physical.
“They started really getting up into us and that bothered us a little bit,” Liberty High coach Ryan Kelly said after losing to Linn-Mar, 76-63, in a Class 4A boys’ basketball substate quarterfinal game Monday night at Linn-Mar High School. “They were kind of face-guarding Trey (Hughes) and we didn’t handle it well very much at the start. We started to settle in a little bit and started working downhill, but when you go this way (east and west) with the ball, it makes it really easy to defend.”
The loss ends the season for Liberty (8-14), which dropped eight of its last 10 games and 11 of 15 after a 4-3 start to the season.
After a first quarter in which the Lightning drilled seven three-point baskets and led by double digits, every indication was that they, and not Linn-Mar, would advance to Friday’s substate semifinal at No. 5 Indianola (19-2).
“I was catching it in rhythm, shooting it with confidence,” said Hughes, who accounted for four of the threes and scored 12 of his 17 points in the opening frame. “They were leaving me open. That is kind of what I do. Knock down open shots.”
Linn-Mar (9-14) did not wait until halftime to adjust to Liberty’s three-point barrage.
By turning up the defensive intensity, the Lions did not surrender another three-point basket over the final three frames and used a 16-0 explosion in the second to flip a 29-19 deficit into a 35-29 lead it would never relinquish.
“They started to put more pressure on me at the three-point line,” Hughes said. “Not allowing me to get open catches and shots. I was able to get open, come off screens, move and all that stuff, but they kind of upped the aggressiveness and in the second half, they stopped letting me touch the ball entirely.”
The Linn-Mar surge was spearheaded by standout sophomore Davis Kern.
After recording just three points in the opening quarter, the 6-foot-8 forward scored a dozen in the second, highlighted by back-to-back three-point baskets that tied the game at 29-29.
Kern – who already holds scholarship offers from South Dakota State and Northern Iowa – added 16 more points after halftime and finished with a game-high 31 while also grabbing nine rebounds.
“His ability to go inside-out and also his toughness,” Kelly said. “He just battles. It’s incredible to see a kid battle the way he does as a sophomore. He fights, he rebounds, he shoots it. He is the focal point of their team.”
Owen Havlik added 11 points and Jackson Severson had 10 for Linn-Mar, which had six different players register a three-point basket.
The Lions led by five points at halftime, 42-37, and Liberty High got no closer in the second half.
The Lightning were led by senior Da’Shon Fisher, who scored 29 points in defeat but displayed allof the improved facets of a more well-rounded game that saw his numbers jump to 22 points and 5.7 rebounds per contest this season.
“I definitely feel like I am shooting the ball with a lot more confidence than last year,” said Fisher, who will play collegiately at Des Moines Area Community College next season. “My ability to see the court, moving the ball around, making sure I get my teammates open. It is court vision, shooting, attacking the basket, better footwork.”
Fisher and senior starting guard Luke Ramsey, who missed the game due to illness, are two of six Liberty High seniors that will graduate this spring.
“All of them have been a part of this program for four years,” Kelly said. “They are a group of individuals that have left this program better than when they came in, and that is all we can ask for.”
Liberty High will return a trio of starters in Hughes, junior Shea Sanders and 6-foot-7 junior forward Gage Kampman, who scored five points and corralled a team-high 10 rebounds in what Kelly termed, “one of his best games all season.”
“I think we have a good group coming back,” Hughes said. “We have really good pieces around. I have seen some of the sophomores. We have got good pieces there. Some freshmen, too, that will really help us and benefit us.”
Liberty High 25 12 15 11 – 63
Linn-Mar 15 27 21 13 – 76
Liberty High (63) – Gage Kampman 2 1-2 5, Shea Sanders 0 0-2 0, Cooper Webb 0 0-0 0, Da’Shon Fisher 13 2-2 29, Trey Hughes 6 1-2 17, Jailyn Buchanan 1 0-0 2, Maddoc Coapstick 3 0-0 8, Cael Schramm 1 0-0 2, James Frantz 0 0-0 0, Meaon Burrell 0 0-0 0, Totals 26 4-8 63.
Linn-Mar (76) – Payson Nietert 3 0-0 8, Owen Olmstead 1 0-0 3, Jackson Severson 4 1-2 10, Davis Kern 13 2-5 31, Ian Mindrup 4 0-0 8, Owen Havlik 4 2-2 11, Mason Matson 2 0-0 5, Ian Bettis 0 0-0 0, Matthew Darbouze 0 0-0 0, Totals 31 5-9 76.
Three-point goals – ICL 7 (Hughes 4, Coapstick 2, Fisher 1), L-M 9 (Kern 3, Nietert 2, Olmstead 1, Severson 1, Matson 1, Havlik 1). Rebounds – ICL 23 (Kampman 10), L-M 16 (Kern 9). Total fouls – ICL 13, L-M 12. Fouled out – None.