The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

Sports

December 22, 2012

Liberal heats up, wins six in a row

Liberal’s boys, beset by shooting woes, lost their last two games in the Lockwood Dennis Cornish Classic for a 2-2 start in prep basketball.

But the Bulldogs, under first-year head coach Travis Walton, have recovered in stellar fashion.

Liberal enters the Christmas break 8-2 overall and 2-0 in the Spring River Valley Conference.

“We’re playing better than we were at the beginning of the season,” Walton said Friday. “That’s especially true during our last three games. We’ve played well in those games.

“I told our players I’d be happy with eight wins at Christmas,” Walton said with a laugh. “I wasn’t so sure after that 2-2 start. But we bounced back with the six straight wins.”

A bunch of narrow wins has left Walton both pleased (naturally) and disappointed.

Explained Walton: “Problems with closing out games and turnovers — we’d been averaging just less than 20 — were disappointments (before the last three games). We’d have several leads of 10 or more points in the fourth quarter but we’d wind up winning by just a few points.”

Walton had no trouble recalling the Liberal shooters firing blanks at Lockwood.

“We opened up with some success against the Lamar man-to-man (in the semifinals),” Walton said. “But they (the Tigers) went to a zone — I believe it was a 2-3 — and we finished 10 of 49 from the field. Then, against Jasper, we shot 13 of 45.”

Walton, who assisted Russ Cramer the past two seasons,  greeted three returning starters in 6-foot-3 senior Colin McNaught, 5-10 junior Trevor Harvey and 6-3 junior Garrett Miller.

Eli Short, a 5-8 senior, and 5-10 junior Haiden Beckwith complete the starters.

Walton also calls on four more underclassmen in 6-0 sophomore Jake Dalby, 6-2 junior Austin Long, 6-0 junior Paul Junker and 5-6 junior Triston Mohlfeld.

“Plus, we’re hoping to incorporate Jake Jungmann, a junior, into our rotation in the second half of the season,” Walton said. “He sustained a hamstring injury in football.”

McNaught and Miller are averaging 12-14 points, Walton said, and Miller may lead McNaught in rebounding about 8-7. Point guard Harvey is averaging about five assists.

Walton, who’s assisted by Jackson Putman, is a graduate of Oswego High School (2004) and Pittsburg State University. Walton assisted Danny Powers two years before joining Cramer.

Cramer, Northeast of Arma graduate who joined the Frontenac system, guided the Bulldogs to records of 18-9 and 7-2 in the SRVC in 2011-12.

The Liberal players are excited about their success, Walton said.

“They’re ready to work (practice) during the break,” he said. “We’re practicing on Saturday, We’re taking off Sunday through Wednesday before resuming Thursday.”

Liberal returns to action on Jan. 3 against visiting league foe College Heights Christian. Homecoming is the next night against Osceola.

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