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Tribal survival

Liberty stays in sectional hunt with huge win over Sullivan West


LIBERTY, NY — The cavalry descended on the village, determined to lay waste to the noble beleaguered tribe that could not survive another defeat.

Revenge was on their minds as they looked to pay the Indians back for wounds suffered a year ago.

With fearsome quickness and lethal shooting, the attack began on February 10. And in the opening foray of what could have been the Indians’ last stand, it looked as if the troops in black and blue would sweep to a decisive victory over the red men, relegating them to history.

But undaunted, the warriors rallied round their chief, and vowed to protect their homeland with their last dying breath. They returned to the encounter with a fury that seemed to stun their adversaries.

By night’s end, they had successfully repelled the attack, emerged victorious and lived to see another day.

No, this was not a reenactment of the battle of The Little Big Horn.

This was the dramatic 58-44 home win by the Liberty Indian Tribe over the marauding Sullivan West Bulldogs, who threatened to dash their hopes of getting back to sectionals. This immense drama had color and heroics aplenty.

For Sullivan West, the win would have been sweet, but the game had far more urgency for Liberty. The Bulldogs had already locked up a berth in the sectional tournament which they missed last year by dint of a final loss to Burke.

One of the Bulldogs’ four league wins came against Liberty in December, the first installment of Sullivan West’s payback for Liberty’s foreclosure a year ago.

Liberty dealt the Bulldogs a pair of back-to-back defeats in 2008. O’Neill and Fallsburg beat them, too, and Burke pounded in the final nail in the Dawgs’ coffin.

A resurrected Sullivan West would pay Burke back on February 12. (See “Lincoln Memorial” on page 28).

Liberty came in with a 2-4 league record and needed this win, and one against Burke on February 18, to get back to the war dance. Last year, Liberty reached sectionals after an eight-year drought. With their convincing win over Sullivan West, Burke alone stood in their path back to the Happy Hunting Ground.

Prior to the game, Liberty senior basketball stars Ceara Williams and Dashawn Williamson were honored as Shop Rite Students of the Month. They received $25 from Liberty Shop Rite manager John Rogan and store advocate Tamarr Crawford, and had their names added to a plaque displayed in the store.

Sullivan West controlled the tip and Justin Armstrong raced to the hoop for an easy two. The Bulldogs’ early press caught Liberty off guard. Dan Figueroa scored and the press afforded Armstrong a steal and a bucket. With just a minute gone by, the Westies led 6-0.

Liberty coach Jason Semo called a time out to calm down his embattled legion. Sullivan West was determined to deliver an early knockout punch.

Williamson grabbed the first of his 12 rebounds and dished the ball to Eddie Byrd. Herman Drayton’s jumper made it 6-4, but Brad Reimer’s three pointer widened the Dawgs’ bite to 9-4 at 5:12. Liberty revered the polarity by outscoring Sullivan West 9-4 for the remainder of the quarter. The teams were tied at 13-all by the end of the period. Reimer had seven in the frame. Drayton had eight for Liberty.

Sullivan West limited Williamson’s scoring. By halftime, he had only four points but was far from inactive. Rebounding, passing and defending, he and his protégé, Drayton, have internalized one of Semo’s guiding precepts: “You can never settle for just being defended.”

Both were monstrous on the boards, affording Liberty a 31-10 rebounding edge that would be critical in garnering the win.

Chris Lake was about to uncork the game of his career as he opened the second quarter with the first of a trio of treys to gave Liberty its first lead, which the Indians soon extended to five points. A three by Rosa and a bucket by Eric Leewe tied the game up at 18-all, but Sullivan West would never get back on top.

Lake’s second three put Liberty ahead for good. Williamson soon pushed the margin to six. Rosa reduced it again, but Williamson’s dish to Brandon Tompkins maintained the edge. Liberty led 26-20 at the break.

Things heated up even more in the third quarter, as Williamson stormed to the rack to make it 28-20. Sullivan West found its stroke from the perimeter in the quarter as Rosa hit a pair of threes and James Spruill added another. Two of those helped close the margin to 32-29. Williamson lost the ball but went skyward to intercept a Sullivan West pass going the other way. He followed that with a muscle up to the rim and a free throw.

A Ryan VanLieu bucket helped Liberty stave off the Bulldogs’ comeback run and they now led by eight. Williamson stood in and took a charge from Dan Figueroa, but the contact took him out of the game for several minutes as he lay prone on the side of the court, trying to overcome the pain and get his wind back. As it happened, it was going to take more than that to sequester this warrior from battle.

By quarter’s end, he was back. He scored only five points in the period but his teammates poured in 14 more, including four from Lake and Connor Hinton, along with two from Drayton, Chris Soto and VanLieu.

Semo’s pre-game maxim to “Make hard work our talent,” was paying off. Before heading into the fray, he stressed the things that had led to recent wins: moving without the ball, playing unselfishly, showing the willingness to step up, good shot selection and protecting the ball.

The latter was huge as Liberty committed its fewest number of turnovers this season.

The highlight of the quarter came at 2:22 when Drayton got a steal and jammed it through the cylinder as Liberty fans screamed with enthusiasm. Liberty led 41-29 at that juncture and was ahead 45-33 heading into the fourth quarter. Rosa’s three pointer, just prior to the end of the period, had cut the margin from 15 to 12.

Armstrong scored but Drayton answered. Lake’s third three pushed the lead back to 15. After an Armstrong technical, Lake missed both free throws. Williamson had another monstrous put back before Rosa hit his third three. By night’s end, Sullivan West had six from downtown.

The Westies played hard, scoring 11 points to Liberty’s 13 in the last eight minutes. But the margin was too large for Sullivan West to trim. Subs came on for both squads in the waning moments.

Liberty improved to 6-11 (3-4 OCIAA), while the Bulldogs slipped to 10-6 (4-3 OCIAA). Rosa had 11 and Reimer had 10 for the Bulldogs, who rarely saw the free-throw line. They were two for six from the stripe. Liberty was nine for 20 from the line.

Williamson and Lake had 15 apiece for Liberty and Drayton had 14.

Sullivan West coach Cliff Kelly knew Liberty would be tough. “You never want to face a team in a situation like that,” he said. “But, we’ve got to shoot well to win and when we don’t, we’re in trouble.” Kelly had hoped to put Liberty away early. “We missed a lot of shots that normally fall,” he said.

Semo credited Sullivan West’s tactics of pressing and coming out with vigor. “They used a variety of defenses against us and their press caught us off guard,” he said. “But we were able to adjust and rely on our stuff that we practice every day.”

Semo’s team is finally executing what they practice. “This was a total team effort,” he said, while praising certain individuals. “Like Dashawn, Herman sees every shot as a pass to him. Guys are crashing the boards, boxing out and anticipating shots, defying to be defended or boxed out,” Semo added.

Williamson’s play has been indescribable. He has not only played huge, but has inspired his teammates with his leadership.

Semo praised VanLieu’s grit, too. “He’s diving for loose balls, keeping it alive. As for Lake, Semo felt his career-high game was the difference. “They matched us tonight in everything else. They weren’t anticipating his having that kind of game.”

After trying to batter each other into submission, Sullivan West and Liberty now share a common foe in Burke. Semo invited rabid denizens of the Dawg Pound to cheer on Liberty against Burke and they agreed to come.

Visit for an album of pictures and the story on the Liberty-Burke clash.

TRR photo by Richard A. Ross
Liberty’s Dashawn Williamson (number 33) scores two of his 15 points as he rises above Sullivan West defenders R.J. Rosa, Brad Reimer and James Spruill. Williamson had 12 rebounds as the Indians stayed alive in their quest to reach sectionals with a 58-44 home win over the Bulldogs. (Click for larger version)