By ANDRES MARTINEZ
Herald-Whig Sports Writer
CAMP POINT, Ill. -- If it comes down to free throws, the Unity girls basketball players are confident that will be to their advantage.
"At practice, we have that mentality where we act like we're at a game," Unity senior Breanne Begeman said. "So when we went up to the line in the fourth quarter, we were like ‘OK, we can do this.'"
The Lady Mustangs did it rather effectively Thursday night.
Unity made 9 of 14 free throws in the fourth quarter to hold off Liberty-Payson and earn a 41-39 victory to wrap up a perfect run through pool play in the Central Lady Panther Classic.
The Lady Mustangs (18-4) advance to Saturday's 7:30 p.m. championship against South Fulton, which wrapped up the championship of the opposite pool with a 44-38 victory over West Hancock.
Getting to this point took some moxie down the stretch.
Liberty-Payson's Kristen Loos was fouled on a 3-point attempt and made 2 of 3 free throws to give the Lady Eagles a 35-33 lead with a little less than three minutes to play. Unity's Brooklyn Moore answered with an offensive rebound and putback before Liberty's Lanessa Graham split a pair of free throws to take back the lead.
The Lady Mustangs' Maggie Bowles made two free throws and Moore split a pair, giving Unity a 38-36 lead with a minute to play.
"We've been in these crunch situations too many times," Unity coach Brad Begeman said. "I told them, ‘(If) we do the right things at the right times, we're going to execute and win.'"
The Lady Mustangs blocked a shot on the next possession, and Liberty immediately fouled Breanne Begeman, who made both free throws to seal the victory.
"We had chances," Liberty coach Brad Bergman said. "We had some untimely turnovers in the fourth quarter that really cost us."
It spoiled what had been a spirited effort from the Lady Eagles.
Behind Moore's six points in the first quarter, Unity took an 11-7 lead.
"Historically, we start weak," Bergman said. "It's just the makeup of this team."
Liberty opened the second quarter on a 6-0 run and took an 18-17 lead into halftime. In fact, the Eagles kept the lead until Jill Donley made a 3-pointer early in the fourth quarter to give Unity its first lead since the second quarter.
A tug-of-war with the lead ensued before the Lady Mustangs figured out how to get the winning pull.
It came at the free-throw line.