By RICHARD MARKEY
Herald-Whig Sports Writer
PITTSFIELD, Ill. -- The Pittsfield boys basketball team didn't give Liberty much time to capture a lead late in the fourth quarter Friday night.
As it turned out, they only gave the Eagles a few seconds.
The Saukees erased a late turnover by forcing another two seconds later and salted away the game from the free-throw line to deny the Eagles a game-tying opportunity in the final minute of a 51-47 victory at Voshall Gym.
Leading 45-43 with 47 seconds remaining, the Saukees turned the ball over on an overthrown inbounds pass into the backcourt. Liberty's Michael Blewett tracked down the ball before slipping to the floor and shoveling the ball to Brett Genenbacher. Genenbacher looked up the floor to find Tyler Ormond in transition, but Pittsfield's Kennedy Kattelman jumped the pass for a steal.
"As soon as we turned that ball over, I was thinking of the next play," Kattelman said. "I was like, ‘We have to get that ball back.' I saw his eyes look up the floor, and I knew I had a guy behind me. I just read it when he threw it and jumped up there and stole it."
Kattelman, who scored all of his seven points in the fourth quarter, was fouled immediately and knocked down a pair of free throws to stretch the lead to 47-43. Liberty scored layups on their ensuing two possessions, but the Saukees cashed in on two trips to the foul line to carry four-point leads onto the defensive end.
"Coaches always say free throws win games. And in this situation for them, they were clutch the entire game and especially down the stretch," Liberty coach Andy Douglas said. "I thought they did a good job of forcing us into quick plays and quick turnovers, and at the very end that's exactly what we did. We had a nice steal on the sideline and tried to force the issue, knowing that they'd apply pressure, and it didn't work out for us down the stretch."
Free throws certainly had a large part in the win. Pittsfield (16-13) finished 21 of 21 from the charity stripe, including 11 of 11 in the fourth quarter.
"Free throws are one of the main things for our team," Saukees forward Dylan Woodward said. "That's what wins the games for us. When we knock them down, we're more confident, ready to play and motivated."
Pittsfield coach Brad Tomhave knew keeping the distance between Liberty and his team was vital.
"It's huge because it takes them out of a foul-and-get-a-stop situation with the clock stopped," Tomhave said of the importance of late foul shooting. "Our guys did a good job of toeing the line and knocking them down throughout the game. And every one of those turned out that it mattered."
Liberty (17-10) forced the Saukees into turnovers on three of their first five second-half possessions to take a 28-27 lead with 4:05 remaining in the third quarter. The Eagles turned to a zone defense with the lead, but the Saukees worked patiently to take a 29-28 lead 1 minute, 44 seconds later on a pair of Eli Petty free throws.
It was the final lead of the night for the Eagles, as Pittsfield ran off a 12-6 run to start the fourth quarter against the Eagles' zone.
"They switch up what they're doing defensively to you, and you hope it doesn't rattle the kids," Tomhave said."We've been working a lot of zone stuff lately. It shows me the kids are really making progress of how we want to attack certain situations and not be hesitant to score against it and still looking at the basket to score."
Wayde Smith led Pittsfield with 15 points, followed by Woodward with nine. Blewett finished with 11 points for Liberty.
"Hopefully (the win) propels us into next week. That's the ultimate goal," Tomhave said. "Hopefully this propels us and gives the kids some confidence next week with the thought that they want to keep playing for another week or two or three."