A season to remember for Jackson Liberty girls’ basketball

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Jackson Liberty High School girls' basketball player Kayla Nelson dribbles the ball up the court during the team's game against Neptune High School in the semifinals of the NJSIAA Central Jersey, Group 3 Tournament on March 6. Nelson scored 12 points in the team's 51-40 loss to Neptune.STEVEN BASSIN/STAFF
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Jackson Liberty High School girls' basketball player Maura Carney tries to dribble past Neptune High School's Ahjanae Young during the semifinals of the NJSIAA Central Jersey, Group 3 Tournament on March 6. Carney scored a game-high 18 points in Jackson Liberty's 51-40 season-ending loss to Neptune.STEVEN BASSIN/STAFF
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Jackson Liberty High School girls' basketball player Ariana Broughton knocks down a free-throw attempt during the team's game against Neptune High School in the semifinals of the NJSIAA Central Jersey, Group 3 Tournament on March 6. Jackson Liberty finishes the season with a 14-14 record.STEVEN BASSIN/STAFF
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Jackson Liberty High School girls' basketball player Kayla Nelson dribbles the ball up the court during the team's game against Neptune High School in the semifinals of the NJSIAA Central Jersey, Group 3 Tournament on March 6. Nelson scored 12 points in the team's 51-40 loss to Neptune.STEVEN BASSIN/STAFF
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Jackson Liberty High School girls' basketball player Maura Carney tries to dribble past Neptune High School's Ahjanae Young during the semifinals of the NJSIAA Central Jersey, Group 3 Tournament on March 6. Carney scored a game-high 18 points in Jackson Liberty's 51-40 season-ending loss to Neptune.STEVEN BASSIN/STAFF
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Jackson Liberty High School girls' basketball player Ariana Broughton knocks down a free-throw attempt during the team's game against Neptune High School in the semifinals of the NJSIAA Central Jersey, Group 3 Tournament on March 6. Jackson Liberty finishes the season with a 14-14 record.STEVEN BASSIN/STAFF

The 2019-2020 season will go down as a historic one for the Jackson Liberty High School girls’ basketball team.

On March 2 in the first round of the NJSIAA Central Jersey, Group 3 Tournament, the Lions established program history against Middletown High School North.

The ninth-seeded Lions crossed off the program’s first ever state playoff victory in impressive fashion when they defeated eighth-seeded Middletown North, 51-37, in Middletown.

“This group came out with a mission to make a statement for Jackson Liberty High School and they absolutely did that,” Jackson Liberty coach Alaina Hearon said. “It’s all about their heart and that they came ready to play for every game. They worked so hard for this. They earned it and deserved it.”

A few days later on March 4 in Red Bank, Jackson Liberty faced off against the No. 1 seed,  Red Bank Regional High School, in the state sectional quarterfinals. Red Bank entered the state game with 21 victories.

Already making history, the Lions were on a mission to put Jackson Liberty girls’ basketball on the map and made that statement loud and clear against the host Buccaneers.

Led by a team-high 24-point performance by junior Maura Carney and senior Kayla Nelson knocking in 16 points, No. 1 was no more when the Lions upset Red Bank, 54-41, to advance to sectional semifinals.

Carney put together a stellar season for Jackson Liberty when she averaged a team-high 15.4 points per game and led the team in steals.

During the state playoffs was where Carney was at her best. She pumped in a total of 59 points in the three tournament games.

“She’s a fierce competitor, who’s just going to get better and better,” Hearon said of Carney. “She’s an absolute leader and stepped for us in every game this postseason.”

The cinderella run for Jackson Liberty ended in the state sectional semifinals against the No. 4 seed, Neptune High School, on March 6.

Neptune advanced to its first NJSIAA sectional final in four years with a 51-40 victory over the Lions.

Clawing back within 23-19 going into halftime after Carney banged home a three-pointer in the final seconds of the first half, Jackson Liberty was unable to capitalize on the momentum going into the second half.

Neptune got out to an 11-4 surge to begin the third quarter and it led to the Scarlet Fliers taking a 41-30 lead into the fourth quarter.

The two teams traded buckets and free-throw attempts in the fourth quarter, allowing Neptune to roll into the sectional finals and end a season to remember for Jackson Liberty.

“They have nothing to be ashamed of,” Hearon said. “They kept fighting and we’re going to come back better from this (loss).”

Carney finished with four three-pointers in the contest and scored a game-high 18 points in the season-ending loss for the Lions. Nelson contributed 12 points for Jackson Liberty. 

The Lions finished the season with a record of 14-14, their best mark since going 16-9 during the 2012-2013 season.

With Carney leading back a group of four starters returning next winter and a bunch of young talent, Hearon believes this is just the beginning of something special for Jackson Liberty and her players believe that too.

“This is just beginning,” Hearon said. “It brings tears to my eyes to see that we have made it to this point. I’m so proud of my team and it makes me excited about what’s to come.” 

Follow Steven Bassin on Twitter @SBassin_Sports