Liharevic’s buzzer beater, big fourth lifts Villa over Kearney

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Shpresa Liharevic had that certain look about her as she drove the ball down court with 6.7 seconds left and the score tied.

“I was ready to call a timeout, but I just saw her face,” St. John Villa coach Liz Blanchard. “I saw her tunnel vision to the basket.”

Liharevic drove the length of the floor into the paint, but had the ball stripped from her. The senior was able to recover possession in time to flip a shot up and in at the buzzer to give St. John Villa a 47-45 win over Bishop Kearney Monday night on Staten Island.

“I didn’t have a chance to look at the clock,” Liharevic said. “I just had to throw one up there.  It was a lucky shot.”

It appeared Kearney had done enough to force overtime. It trailed most of the game, but Meaghan McGoorty’s put back tied the score at 45 with 6.7 left after Villa missed the front ends of consecutive one-and-ones with less than 30 seconds left.

“We executed that play, we scored the basket to tie it up,” Tigers coach Cathy Crockett said. “We had the steal down there. It happens.”

Liharevic was too much in the fourth. The 5-foot-7 point guard, who recently signed a letter of intent with St. Thomas Aquinas, scored 10 of her 18 points in the quarter. She began to take over the game once Kearney erased the Bears’ lead with a 13-0 run late in the third and into the fourth. The spurt was sparked by defensive rebounds that turned into transition baskets. The Tigers (4-2) took a 36-33 lead on Christina Hiltunen’s layup 1:40 into the quarter.

“We weren’t pushing back boxing out,” Liharevic said. “We were just standing there hoping the ball will go into your hands.”

In the fourth, Liharevic scored on second-chance baskets, something that hurt Kearney all game, and by penetrating into the lane. She also connected on a jumper from the top the key to tie the score and then gave Villa (2-4) the lead back for good at 41-39 on a put back with 4:26 remaining.

“She’s really good,” Hiltunen said. “She knows how to handle it and how to get the right shot. She rebounds, too, and I wasn’t used to that.”

It was those second-effort baskets and some poor Kearney shooting that allowed Villa to build a 33-23 lead with 2:37 left in the third on put backs by Liharevic. Meaghan Tomao added 12 points for Villa. Sam Retas scored 11 points and Hiltunen added 10 for Kearney, which was coming off a big win last Thursday over Molloy, a team Villa lost to at the buzzer earlier this season.

“I think we’re stopping ourselves,” Crockett said. “We had a lot of open layups that we just weren’t connecting on.”

For Villa, the win is certainly an important one after a slow start for the young squad, especially at home.

“Knowing that you can execute at the end, knowing you can do exactly what you’re told, you start to believe in your teammates,” Blanchard said.  “It’s a win in our home gym. That is something I try to emphasize with the girls. You have to take pride on your own court.”


Updated 11:48 am, January 16, 2019
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