With dreams of a trip to the state tournament seemingly screeching to a halt, host Liberty on Friday night managed to find just enough overdrive to complete a 27-year journey.
The Lions saw their double-digit lead against North Carroll dwindle to two late in the fourth quarter before rallying to score the game's final seven points, all from the foul line, to pull away for a 59-50 win in the Class 2A West final and their first state semifinal appearance since 1983.
"We knew we were the better team out there. We just needed to show it," junior Maggie McCormick said. "We got down on ourselves for a little bit, but we pulled it back."
The Lions (18-6) advanced to the Class 2A state semifinals at UMBC, where they will face an opponent to be determined Friday at 3.
For coach Jessica Morgan, who was 2 years old the last time Liberty advanced this far, the win completed a monumental journey for the program.
"I told them the whole time, I know they're a great team, and as long as they work together and keep their composure at the end, they can beat a lot of teams," Morgan said. "I don't know that they believed that at the beginning, but I hope they do now."
McCormick (13 points, seven rebounds) led three players in double figures for the Lions, who built an early seven-point lead that they never relinquished, building it to as much as 12 by early in the fourth quarter. Haley Marlatt added 11 points, Rebeka Coughlin scored 10 and Shelby Nemecek had 17 rebounds for Liberty.
North Carroll (19-6), however, then roared back, led by 6-foot senior Caitlin Bach, who finished with 25 points to add to her all-time Carroll County scoring lead. Bach and guard Lauren Capece led the Panthers on a 12-2 run, with Capece hitting a pair of 3-pointers to help cut the lead to 50-48 with 2:25 left.
North Carroll, however, couldn't keep up the pace, and began getting sloppy, committing turnovers and fouls down the stretch.
"We have to always take the hard way. Nothing's easy for us - that's been our motto all year," said North Carroll coach John Brown. "You live and die by what you do, and we are who we are. We gave it everything that we possibly had."
NC-Bach 25, Capece 10, Kennedy 4, McFarland 2, Torres 7, Zachman 2. Totals: 16 16-27 50.
L-Coughlin 10, McCormick 6, Cross 8, Nemecek 6, McCormick 13, Karr 3, Marlatt 11. Totals: 1918-29 59.
Half: Liberty, 25-21.