By FRANK CASH
Herald-Whig Sports Writer
MENDON, Ill. -- It didn't matter to the Unity boys basketball players how they beat Liberty Friday night.
The main objective was reaching the championship game of the Mississippi Valley Invitational Tournament for the second year in a row.
"We were going to do whatever it took," said guard Will Klusmeyer following the Mustangs' 60-57 semifinal victory over the Eagles. "It's great to be able to beat Liberty again but it's even better being able to play in the title game again."
Unity (9-5) will meet Payson Seymour in the championship game at 7:30 p.m. Saturday. The Mustangs lost last year's title game to the Indians 62-58.
When Friday's victory was in doubt, Unity looked inside to 6-foot-4 junior Lane Davis, who converted two crucial three-point plays down the stretch.
Davis' first three-point play came when Klusmeyer and Dylan Shaffer had trouble hanging on to the basketball but it wound up in Davis' hands. Davis scored, was fouled by Kody Leapley and made the free throw for a 53-46 lead with 3 minutes, 25 seconds left.
"That play was something else,"
Davis said. "The ball was all over the place. We need to find that on the video and watch it again."
Davis' second three-point play came when he converted a pass from Klusmeyer, was fouled by Isaac Murfin and completed the trifecta for a 58-53 lead with 29.3 seconds left.
Davis and Klusmeyer wrapped up the victory by each making a free throw. Liberty had a chance to tie the score but Murfin's inbounds pass with 1.8 seconds left was stolen by Klusmeyer.
Everyone in the Unity locker room credited Davis for being the hero. He scored a career-high 31 points -- the third time in the past three weeks he's scored at least 26 points -- to go with 12 rebounds. He was 13 of 14 at the free-throw line.
"Lane's a big cog in our wheel," Mustangs coach Keith Carothers said. "He's a rock we can count on. The other players know they can get him the ball and something is going to happen. He's got such a nice touch on his shot."
Davis scored 22 points in the first half as Unity led 36-26 at halftime. Leapley and Murfin were assigned to double team Davis in the second half and it worked as Davis picked up his second and third fouls during the first two minutes of the half and sat the rest of the third quarter.
That gave the Eagles time to make a run.
Liberty (7-4) cut the lead to 48-44 when Brett Genenbacher scored off a pass from Austin Mast with 5:31 left in the game. That was followed by two free throws from Davis and the first of his two three-point plays.
"We just started playing in the second half. That's all it was," Eagles coach Andy Douglas said. "We came out so timid early in the game. We have to learn from our mistakes and get better. It's not important to win every trophy that's available. What's important is getting a little bit better every time out."
Carothers hopes his team can put together another solid effort against Payson. The Mustangs have lost their final three meetings against the Indians by a total of eight points.
"We've had opportunities the last few games against Payson but we haven't closed them out," Carothers said. "Having a chance to play Payson again has been in the back of our players' minds this whole week. Now they get that chance."