[Baltimore Sun] Liberty boys basketball beats rival Century, 61-59, on Aaron Bald’s putback at the buzzer

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The ball hung around the rim for what seemed like an eternity.

A packed Century High gym watched and awaited the fate of Aaron Bald’s putback that would decide the end of another classic between two archrivals.

Bald’s shot finally dropped into the hoop at the buzzer. Century fans were left speechless, while the blacked out Liberty student section stormed the floor in celebration after the Lions’ 61-59 win Thursday night.

“I’m so happy for that kid,” Liberty coach George Sinnott said. “He’s a captain, a senior and now he’ll have that memory for a lifetime.”

With 4.7 seconds left, it was really anyone’s guess as to who Liberty would turn to. Sinnott was armed with the trio of Alex Thompson, Cole Jernigan and Tristian West, all three on the court and capable of making the game-winning shot regardless of what happened earlier in the night.

“I like our chances against anyone in that situation,” Thompson said. “We have three guys that can do damage when the other team leaves one of us open or makes a mistake.”

Thompson took the shot but it wouldn’t fall, but Bald was there for the rebound and buzzer-beating putback that ended a scoreless last two minutes of the fourth quarter. The senior was in the right place at the right time.

“I’m looking for the rebound,” Bald said recalling the final sequence. “Just trying to make an impact on the game.”

Both teams had to dig deep into their benches for bodies thanks to each staff having to manage key players in foul trouble throughout the game. Thompson and Century’s Ben Chenoweth were both able to stay on the court and be effective as both seniors tried to put their respective teams on their backs to go after the win.

Thompson seemingly had an answer for every Century defender thrown at him, finishing with a game-high 25 points, determined to come home with the second win of the season over his school’s arch rival.

“Against Century, you do whatever it takes to come away with the W,” he said. “I was just out there being aggressive and trying to get to the rim.”

Liberty’s Aaron Bald nearly comes away with a second half steal in the backcourt against Century’s Peyton Conrad. Liberty takes a 61-59 win over host, Century Thursday night in Sykesville. (Doug Kapustin / Freelance)

Century’s Jackson Smith commits the foul on Liberty’s Cole Jernigan in the second half. Liberty takes a 61-59 win over host, Century Thursday night in Sykesville. (Doug Kapustin / Freelance)

Liberty coach, George Sinnott gives instructions to his team late in the game against Century. Liberty takes a 61-59 win over host, Century Thursday night in Sykesville. (Doug Kapustin / Freelance)

Liberty’s Alex Thompson drives past Century defender, Peyton Conrad in the second half. Liberty takes a 61-59 win over host, Century Thursday night in Sykesville. (Doug Kapustin / Freelance)

Liberty’s Cole Jernigan is called for a blocking foul against Century’s Nathan Brown in the second half. Liberty takes a 61-59 win over host, Century Thursday night in Sykesville. (Doug Kapustin / Freelance)

Liberty’s Tristan West drives to the basket against Century defenders, from left, Nathan Brown, Jackson Smith, and Peyton Conrad in the second half. Liberty takes a 61-59 win over host, Century Thursday night in Sykesville. (Doug Kapustin / Freelance)

Attempting to drive to the basket against Century’s Peyton Conrad, left, and Ryan Matthews, Liberty’s Cole Jernigan is fouled by Conrad late in the game. Liberty takes a 61-59 win over host, Century Thursday night in Sykesville. (Doug Kapustin / Freelance)

Liberty’s Aaron Bald and Century’s Christian Szaeko get tangled up while racing for a loose ball in the second half. Liberty takes a 61-59 win over host, Century Thursday night in Sykesville. (Doug Kapustin / Freelance)

Century’s Nathan Brown put up a fade away jump shot in the first half against Liberty. Liberty takes a 61-59 win over host, Century Thursday night in Sykesville. (Doug Kapustin / Freelance)

Century coach, George Wunder reacts with the rest of his bench as the Knights take charge in the first half. Liberty comes back to take a 61-59 win over host, Century Thursday night in Sykesville. (Doug Kapustin / Freelance)

Liberty’s Jayden Zumbrun, left, and Aaron Bald trap Century’s Nathan Brown in the back court as Liberty takes a 61-59 win over host, Century Thursday night in Sykesville. (Doug Kapustin / Freelance)

Century’s Ryan Matthews pulls down an offensive rebound against Liberty’s Tristan West and Cole Jernigan in the first half. Liberty takes a 61-59 win over host, Century Thursday night in Sykesville. (Doug Kapustin / Freelance)

Century’s Benjamin Chenoweth drives along the baseline against Liberty’s Gavin Speace, left, and Aaron Bald to score in the first half. Liberty takes a 61-59 win over host, Century Thursday night in Sykesville. (Doug Kapustin / Freelance)

Liberty’s Aaron Bald, left, is mobbed by teammates including Christian Szaeko, center, after scoring the winning basket as time expired Thursday against Century. (Doug Kapustin / Freelance)

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Chenoweth had some help early in the game as a Century bench that struggled on the road in the first matchup felt comfortable early on its home floor. Nick Baron was ready for the moment, coming off the bench and making key shots as the Knights went on a first quarter run after a quick timeout by coach George Wunder.

Despite the revolving door of players around him, Chenoweth played tough, taking on West and others inside while also showcasing his range, hitting outside shots as he finished with an impressive 22 points of his own.

With Peyton Conrad in foul trouble and on the bench for a majority of the second quarter, Ryan Matthews and Jackson Smith stepped up, each hitting shots and fighting hard as the Knights went into halftime with an eight-point lead.

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Not wanting the game to quickly get out of reach. Sinnott and his staff went to work in the locker room.

“We talked at halftime about being resilient,” he said. “What we do best is get up and down the floor and attack the rim, so that’s what we did.”

Coming out with a 5-0 run to start the second half, Thompson continued to battle with Chenoweth as the game got tight and the officiating crew started to let the rivals play. Thompson took heed of his coach’s halftime words, continuing to be the aggressor and get to his spots as he seemingly countered every Century shot with one of his own.

“When he gets to his left hand and wants to attack the rim, he’s so hard to guard,” Sinnott said. “He can contort his body in so many different ways and angles, that’s why he can easily get shots off.”

Finishing the season on the highest of highs after a sweeping their archrival, the Lions now are in rest-and-recovery mode as they get ready for the playoff run.

Sinnott anticipates a tough road in Class 1A West Region II, a road that could very well lead to a third matchup with a South Carroll team that has beaten Liberty twice this season.

“Playoff time you reevaluate,” he said. “You go in and add a couple of wrinkles and just sure up the game plan. The stakes are high and the margin for error is low.”

With another close win in a hostile environment under their belts, the Lions are confident they can handle anything the playoffs throw at them.

“We’ve gotten down in some games but we’ve been able to grind it out,” Bald said. “We play our best games on the biggest stages.”

Liberty — 18 11 15 17 — 61

Century — 18 19 11 11 — 59

L: Alex Thompson 25, Aaron Bald 12, Tristian West 9, Jayden Zumbrun 6, Cole Jernigan 6, Brady Bergen 2, Ethan Hart 1.

C: Ben Chenoweth 22, Nick Baron 10, Jackson Smith 10, Ryan Matthews 9, Peyton Conrad 3, Daniel Riley 3, Nathan Brown 2.

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