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Liberty edges Coronado in Southeast League basketball thriller

Coronado won the Southeast League boys basketball title Friday night despite losing to Liberty. But if there’s any consolation for the Patriots and senior wing Julian Strawther, it’s a win over their archrival before a capacity crowd in the regular-season finale.

Strawther scored 14 of his 35 points in a frenetic fourth quarter to guide the Patriots to a 71-66 home victory and cap one of the most successful seasons in school history.

Coronado (18-7, 9-1 Southeast) owns the tiebreaker — and the league’s No. 1 seed in the Desert Region tournament — by virtue of its 14-point victory over Liberty (19-6, 9-1) earlier in the season.

Tournament play begins next week, and the Patriots have won a school-record 12 consecutive games to set a school record for victories in a season.

“With the group of guys that we have, we have a lot of momentum, especially with this win,” said Strawther, who added 11 rebounds. “Everybody is ready to go, ready to make a state run.”

The Cougars and Patriots were the class of the league. Coronado coasted to a 100-86 win over Liberty on Jan. 8 and annihilated the rest of their league opponents.

The Patriots haven’t lost since.

Liberty coach Stefan Berg said his team didn’t play four competitive quarters in the first meeting, but effort wasn’t an issue Friday. The Patriots played physical man-to-man defense and flustered Cougars guards and wings, except for junior five-star guard Jaden Hardy, who scored a team-high 30 points.

The teams played to a 31-31 halftime tie, and Coronado took a 44-43 lead into the fourth quarter. But Strawther, playing in the final regular-season home game of his storied prep career, said he “wasn’t going to lose. I wasn’t going to go out like that.”

So he attacked for three layups and eight free throws, keying the Patriots’ most significant victory of the season and a celebration with the student section at center court.

“We wanted to win the league, but every time we play Coronado, it’s a rivalry game,” Berg said. “I asked my kids to play hard. And they go out there and compete. … The atmosphere is just unreal. And that’s all you want for the kids.”

Senior guard Dante Davis made four 3-pointers and scored 18 for Liberty.

Senior wings Dallas Rider and Felix Reeves had 10 points apiece for Coronado.

Contact reporter Sam Gordon at sgordon@reviewjournal.com. Follow @BySamGordon on Twitter.

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