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Darden's Last-Second Bank Shot Enables Radford To Defeat Liberty, 57-55, In Big South Championship Semifinals
Radford's second victory over the Lady Flames in seven days pushes the Highlanders' record to 20-10, giving them their first 20-win season since the 1991-92 campaign.
Liberty's season ends at 19-12. The setback snapped a 29-game Big South Championship winning streak and, for the first time in 11 years, a team other than the Lady Flames will represent the Big South Conference in the NCAA Division I Tournament.
Unlike their meeting with the Highlanders last Saturday, the Lady Flames opened the game shooting well from the field, making four of their first five field goal attempts. Consecutive perimeter connections by Megan Frazee ignited an 8-0 Liberty run. Michelle Parker closed the burst with two outside jumpers of her own, the second of which made it 12-6, Liberty at 13:49.
On the other hand, Radford, which scored 47 first-half points in its most recent meeting with Liberty, went 6:38 without a point before Sarah Stephens made a basket from the paint with 10:30 remaining in the opening half.
The Lady Flames also controlled the rebounding margin early, grabbing 12 of the game's first 14 rebounds.
Megan Frazee recorded a double-double in the first 12:05 of play, as the sophomore hauled in her 10th rebound and put it back for her ninth and 10th markers, pushing the Liberty advantage to 18-10. The double-double was her 13th of the year and her third consecutive.
Radford would get no closer than five the remainder of the half, as Liberty continued to put the clamps on at the defensive end of the floor. Radford was limited to 37 percent (10-of-27) from the field before halftime and had three shots rejected. The Highlanders were also just 16.7 percent (1-of-6) from the charity stripe.
The Lady Flame advantage reached 11 when Molly Frazee made the second of back-to-back hoops at 1:58, making it 26-15, Liberty.
Radford then notched seven of the half's last nine points. A Corrie Fertitta free throw with 18.6 seconds left cut Liberty's halftime advantage to 28-22.
Megan Frazee finished the opening stanza with 10 points and 10 boards, pacing all players in both categories. Parker added half a dozen tallies for Liberty, which shot 48.1 percent (13-of-27) from the floor in the opening half and out-rebounded its in-state rival, 23-11.
Kelli Darden, who sparked Radford's half-ending surge, led her team in both points (6) and rebounds (3) before the break.
Allyson Fasnacht scored the first five points of the second half, including her team's initial three-pointer of the evening. Her left-handed, fast break lay-up 1:02 into the half enabled Liberty to extend its lead to double digits again, 33-22.
Radford cut its deficit to one, 37-36, as the result of an ensuing 14-4 run. Darden scored seven points during the surge, which ended with a Corrie Fertitta free throw with 11:21 left.
Rachel Hammond stemmed the tide with a three-pointer from the corner on Liberty's next possession. Another Hammond triple at 8:41 pushed the Lady Flame advantage back to 43-36.
The Highlanders battled back once again, trimming the Liberty lead to a single point again, 49-48, when Pullen made a pair of foul shots with 2:49 remaining in the half.
After a Moriah Frazee put-back, Radford tallied three-straight points, knotting the score at 51 on a Fertitta charity toss at 1:29.
Liberty reclaimed the advantage on its next trip, as Karolina Piotrkiewicz converted an old-fashioned three-point play with 1:08 left, making the count 54-51.
Piotrkiewicz rebounded a missed Highlander shot and was fouled but was assessed a technical foul at the same time, giving Johnette Walker two free throws, both of which she made.
Fasnacht, shooting in Piotrkiewicz's place after the senior was disqualified on her fifth foul, split a pair of foul shots, giving Liberty a 55-53 advantage with 55.3 seconds left.
Fertitta tied the score at 55 apiece with 39 seconds remaining. Then, a Liberty missed shot set the stage for Darden's heroics. She banked in a shot from the right block as time expired to give her team a hard-fought win. Officials reviewed the play and ruled that the ball left her hand before the clock hit 0.0 seconds. Radford had not led since the score stood at 6-4 during the opening two minutes of the game.
Darden led all players with 19 points and paced the Highlanders with seven boards. Walker added 13 points a trio of steals.
Megan Frazee ended up with 10 points and 13 rebounds, but missed the final 13:54 of the game due to a knee injury. Hammond stepped forward in her absence, notching eight of her 10 markers after the intermission.
The Lady Flames' backcourt stalwarts, Fasnacht and Parker, played brilliantly, combining for 16 points and eight assists while committing just three combined turnovers in 67 total minutes of work. Parker appeared in her 125th career game, breaking the Liberty and Big South Conference records for games played, both of which were previously held by Daina Staugaitiene.
Liberty grabbed 19 offensive rebounds on its way to a 45-26 edge under the glass. However, the Lady Flames slipped to 32.3 percent (10-of-31) shooting after halftime and ended up at 39.7 percent (23-of-58) for the game.
The game ended the careers of Liberty seniors Jamie Feagin, Leslie Jones, Parker and Piotrkiewicz. The quartet won 95 games and three Big South Championships during their time in Lynchburg.
Radford will meet the host team, No. 4 seed UNC Asheville, in the 2007 Advance Auto Parts Big South Championship title contest, Saturday at 2 p.m. at the Justice Center. The winner of the game will earn the conference's automatic berth in the NCAA Division I Tournament.
Radford Head Coach Jeri Porter:
"I am so proud of these kids. They played through a lot of adversity tonight. It goes back to heart. We made plays and got stops late in the game and Kelli was able to finish it off with a great effort. This may have been the best Radford/Liberty game I have been involved in all my years associated with these two programs."
"At a timeout with six minutes to go, I told the kids it was up to them. It was going to come down to which team wanted it the most and we were able to get a stop and score in the final seconds."
Liberty Head Coach Carey Green:
"I want to congratulate Radford University for advancing to the championship round, they have a very good team. I thought we played well tonight. We rebounded well, our defensive was good all game but we could have executed better on offense. Once again I would like to congratulate Radford."