By FRANK CASH
Herald-Whig Sports Writer
LIBERTY, Ill. -- There was one player the Griggsville-Perry boys basketball team wanted at the free-throw line late in Friday night's game.
Dryden Craven didn't disappoint.
With his team leading Liberty by six points, Craven went 6 of 6 at the line during the final 39.6 seconds to help the Tornadoes win 59-52 to spoil the Eagles' homecoming.
"He's who we wanted there in that situation," Griggsville senior Matthew Kennedy said. "We know we can count on Dryden."
Few Griggsville players have let their team down lately. After starting the season 1-8, the Tornadoes have won eight of their last 10.
"The early-season schedule was a struggle. We played a lot of really good teams," Griggsville coach Todd Bradshaw said. "But we kept playing hard. We paid our dues and it's worked out well for us."
The Tornadoes (9-10) kept their confidence while Liberty tried to rally in the second half.
The Eagles (11-6) cut a 10-point third-quarter deficit to 42-40 when Isaac Murfin scored off a pass from Michael Blewett with 6:27 left in the game. Craven -- who scored his 1,000th career point with a layup on the first possession of the fourth quarter -- assisted on Griggsville's next two baskets and added a free throw to put the Tornadoes ahead 49-43 with just under four minutes left.
Liberty had a chance to get within two with 58 seconds remaining, but Michael Blewett missed two free throws. On Griggsville's next possession, Craven made the first of his game-ending free throws.
"We knew it would be tough coming in here and beating Liberty on their home floor. It's a hostile environment and always hard to win here," said Craven, who had game highs of 20 points and seven assists. "But the big thing the last several games has been defense. We counted on that again tonight."
Bradshaw knew early in the season he would be able to count on the leadership and scoring of Craven and Kennedy, who scored 18 points against Liberty. A pleasant surprise has been the development of junior Levi King, who added 15 points against the Eagles.
King was also instrumental during the fourth quarter by scoring eight of the Tornadoes' 19 points.
"Levi has been a great scoring threat for us," Bradshaw said. "He's turned into a beast. Tonight, he got his second foul in the first quarter but we knew we'd have to stick with him. It worked out fine. He continued to play hard."
Griggsville was a tough defensive matchup for Liberty.
"Except for Payson, there's no one we've played so far that's been a bigger challenge to defend," Eagles coach Andy Douglas said. "You have to do whatever you can to keep them out of the lane because once they get in there, they're going to the basket. We didn't guard them well enough tonight."
It had been six days since Liberty's last game, when it beat Payson to win the Winchester Tournament.
"There wasn't a letdown after that though," Douglas said. "The players did a good job of moving past that after we started practice again Monday. They've been good all season focusing on the next task at hand."
With only two home games so far, the Tornadoes have felt like road warriors. That will change when they tip off a four-game homestand against Winchester West Central Tuesday night.
"It's going to be good to finally get to play some home games," Craven said. "I think playing on the road has made us a little tougher. We've dealt with the challenges of the season pretty well so far."