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Liberty holds off Democracy Prep in another 5A girls battle — PHOTOS

If the last two days are any indication, the Class 5A girls basketball playoffs ought to be pretty exciting.

And no one knows exactly whom to pencil in as the favorite.

A night after third-ranked Democracy Prep knocked off No. 1 Centennial, handing the Bulldogs their first loss to a local team since 2015, No. 5 Liberty traveled to Democracy Prep and held on for a 39-37 win over the Blue Knights.

“I think we’re proving people wrong,” Liberty senior Daisha Peavy said. “I think people are underestimating us and what we have, and we showed them today.”

Democracy Prep rallied for a 50-46 road win over Centennial on Tuesday, but Liberty grabbed an early advantage Wednesday and didn’t look back, leading for the final 26:46 of the game.

The Patriots (15-8, 8-2 Class 5A Southern League) took their biggest lead at 32-21 on a pull-up jumper by Alofa Eteuini with 5:20 to play.

But the Blue Knights (14-6, 8-2) continued to pressure Liberty, forcing seven fourth-quarter turnovers to make things more than interesting down the stretch.

“Honestly, I had the confidence in us,” Peavy said. “Whatever comes in front of us, we can beat any battle no matter what. I wasn’t scared of the points, I wasn’t scared of the refs, the fouls, nothing.”

ZhaNea Burrell had just two baskets, but they both came in the final 46 seconds as Democracy Prep clawed its way back into the game.

Burrell’s final hoop cut the lead to 39-37 with 32 seconds to play. Liberty had a chance to stretch its lead at the free-throw line, but Reese Chesnut missed two free throws with 10.6 seconds left, giving the Blue Knights one final chance.

Liberty’s defense rose to the occasion one final time and didn’t allow Democracy Prep to get off a final shot.

“They’re a great team,” Liberty coach Billy Hemberger said of Democracy Prep, which moved up from Class 2A to 5A this season. “They play hard as hell; they play fast. We knew that run was coming. It was just a matter of being able to weather the storm. And thankfully we ran enough clock for there not to be enough time in the end.

“And defense won us the game, and that’s been our constant all year.”

The Patriots held the Blue Knights to 31.1 percent shooting. Liberty also spent much of the first half and the early third quarter milking clock to try to prevent Democracy Prep from getting going in transition.

Peavy, who had 13 points and 15 rebounds, often held the ball between the top of the key and the center circle when her defender sagged off. With no shot clock, the strategy worked, allowing Liberty to control the tempo and take a 12-7 halftime lead.

“Our strength is the way that we defend,” Hemberger said. “So when you think about that, we want to be able to play in the half court. So that was kind of the game plan going into today.”

The 6-foot-3-inch Peavy was dominant on the glass, helping Liberty to a 30-24 rebound advantage.

“She’s been that way all year,” Hemberger said. “She’s a mismatch nightmare for pretty much every single opponent that we play against. And when she shows up and plays hard and all that stuff, that’s been the consistent thing. So I’m not surprised by it. That’s what the kid is able to do.”

Satsuki Bradley added 12 points, three assists and two steals for Liberty.

“Every single game is about us,” Hemberger said. “It has nothing to do with who we’re playing against. And if we execute, we’re going to be scary.”

Bray’ana Miles led Democracy Prep with 15 points, five rebounds and five steals.

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