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4A girls: Liberty back for more

Even an unpleasant experience still can be valuable.

Liberty’s girls basketball team went to its first Class 4A state tournament last year with plenty of optimism and enthusiasm.

And left with disappointment, but incentive to return and achieve more.

They get their chance today.

The Sunrise Region champion Patriots (26-2) meet Bishop Gorman (24-6) in a state semifinal at 3 p.m. at Orleans Arena. The winner faces either Centennial (30-1) or Reed (26-0) in the title game at 6 p.m. Friday. The Bulldogs and Raiders meet at 6:20 tonight at Orleans Arena.

"We don’t ever again want to feel the way we felt coming home on that bus ride," said Liberty senior guard Amanda Delgado, whose team lost to Reed in last year’s state semifinals in Reno. The Patriots never recovered after falling behind 14-2.

"Everything really surprised us last year, and then we finally realized it was just another game," Delgado added. "That experience helps a lot. Everything is more settled. We’ll be at home. We’ll sleep in our own beds. We’ll have our home fans."

Centennial, Gorman and Reed are among the usual suspects competing for the state title. Centennial and Gorman have combined to win the last nine.

But the experience was new to the Patriots last year.

"I don’t think their eyes will be as big this time," Liberty coach Quintin Lester said. "The lights won’t be as bright. The goal is still the same."

Little has surprised Liberty this season. An overwhelming favorite to win the Sunrise Region before the season started, the Patriots haven’t lost a game to a Nevada team.

Liberty’s two losses are to Orange Lutheran (Calif.) and Chandler (Ariz.), both in a late December tournament.

"We knew we were going to be the hunted from the end of last year," said Delgado, one of four returning starters. "It just gave us more initiative to keep working hard. We knew we had to give everyone our ‘A’ game."

It’s been difficult to give Liberty anything but an ‘A’ for the season.

The Patriots have won 16 straight. Their average margin of victory against Nevada teams is 30.5 points per game.

Delgado, who has signed to play at Oregon, leads the team in scoring and is the floor leader, but she gets plenty of help from junior Alena Evans and senior Jade Washington, both of whom average more than 10 points per game.

Evans transferred from Silverado and gives the Patriots a dimension they lacked last season.

"We can consistently get points in the paint. We can get rebounds," Lester said.

The Patriots will need to be aggressive against the rest of the state’s elite if they’re to achieve their goal.

"We’re more concerned with what we do," Lester said. "As long as we continue to do what we do, do it with some confidence and work hard, we’re going to be all right against whoever we play."

Contact reporter Bartt Davis at bdavis@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-5230.

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