The final buzzer sounded, and Liberty seniors Maisie Burnham and Kendyl Fletcher embraced at midcourt.
The Lancers had just defeated the second-seeded La Conner Braves 52-45 to secure a State 2B girls basketball championship for Liberty, which had gone nearly three decades without a title in any high school sport.
But after that and a few other hugs, Fletcher made her way to the bench where Rod Fletcher, one of the team’s assistant coaches, was waiting for her.
Rod Fletcher was the football coach in 1992, when the program last hoisted a state championship trophy. For Kendyl, cutting down the nets with her grandfather on Saturday at the Spokane Arena was particularly special.
“It is the best thing ever. Family means so much to me,” Kendyl said. “Getting second last year really made us want this even more … knowing what that felt like.”
Fletcher and nearly all her current teammates played in that 50-42 loss to Tri-Cities Prep at this time last season. So to have another chance at ending the “Liberty curse” was particularly special for them.
“It’s honestly crazy,” Burnham said. “I’m just blessed to be part of the team who brought it back.”
After winning 12 straight games by double digits, Liberty (26-1) struggled to distance itself from the Braves (23-3). In the first half, Burnham – who will play at Eastern Washington next season – shot 3 of 12 from the field for six points, and senior Aleena Cook was 0 for 6.
But the third member of that trio of 6-footers, junior Delaney Goodwin, sank three 3-pointers in the first half to help the Lancers build a 27-20 lead.
“Delaney kept us in the game,” Burnham said. “She stepped up big time.”
After leading by as many as 12, Liberty’s lead faded again. La Conner senior Morgan Herrera ended the third quarter with two putbacks, including one at the buzzer, to cut Liberty’s lead to 38-35.
From there, though, the Lancers settled in on defense and restored a nine-point lead with 1 minute to go.
“(La Conner) is really, really, really good,” Liberty coach Chris Colvin said. “They weren’t gonna just go away. This wasn’t gonna be a 20-point blowout.”
Both the Liberty girls and boys basketball teams came to the State 2B tournament as the No. 1 seed. The boys – who had lost in the 2017 and 2015 title games – went two-and-out this weekend.
“That was one of the first things I heard about when I took this job was the ‘Liberty curse,’ and how everyone gets to the championship but they only get second,” Colvin said. “And then of course with us last year, it only furthered that myth, so I think that was something we had to dispel in our minds early on and say, ‘Hey, that’s not really a thing.’ ”
For Burnham, who finished with a team-high 22 points, the significance of the victory wasn’t just to her school. Mother Cheri (Soliday) Burnham won a state title when she played at Reardan. Her brothers, though, represented Liberty in state tournaments but never won one.
Ten minutes after the game, Burnham said she still hadn’t had the chance to hug her parents.
“Not yet,” she said, “but I’ll get there.”