Lions hand Carroll County foe first loss on Sheetz’s basket at buzzer (VIDEO HIGHLIGHTS HERE!)

Shane Stewart had 13 points and Justin Sheetz scored the game-winning basket as time expired as Liberty defeated Century, 61-60, in a Carroll County boys basketball contest in Sykesville. Sheetz, a senior, finished with 12 points.

by Derek Toney

They’re playing basketball in Carroll County, and its biggest boys rivalry, Century and Liberty, was renewed Friday evening. And it didn’t disappoint.

The Lions defeated the Knights, 61-60, in Sykesville. Justin Sheetz scored as time expired for Liberty, handing Century its first loss in Carroll County Athletic League (CCAL) this season.

Sam Allen finished with 14 points for the Lions (4-2 overall), and junior Shane Stewart added 13. Noah Riley had a game-high 19 points for Century (4-1), and Colby Owings contributed 18.

Owings converted two free throws with five seconds left in regulation, giving the hosts a 60-59 advantage. After a Liberty timeout, Sheets got a pass from Jayden Adams, drove to the basket and laid the ball off the glass.

“There were multiple scenarios,” said Sheetz. “The lane was too wide open so I took it.”

Sheetz and Adams also finished in double figures in 12 points each as Liberty rebounded from Wednesday’s loss to Westminster. The 56-47 defeat came a night after the Lions routed Westminster, 65-44, at home.

“Sports can be humbling and wake you up sometimes,” said Lions coach Brian Tombs. “We didn’t bring the energy…Yesterday we focused on fundamentally doing what we’re supposed to do, nothing worrying about results.”

The Lions didn’t lack energy Friday, especially with Century on the opposite bench. The teams have been 1-2 in the CCAL standings the last five seasons, and the Knights claimed the first meeting in Eldersburg in early January.

Century, courtesy of a Riley steal and layup in the waning seconds, led 29-27 at halftime. The Knights promptly started the second half with a 10-5 run, including 3-pointers from Riley and John Pavlich, to extend their lead to 41-32 with four minutes, 53 seconds left in the third.

The Lions, who defeated Century in the Class 2A West Region I final last year, rallied. They claimed a 51-50 advantage on Sheetz’s basket midway in the fourth quarter.

“Being down nine points didn’t help but we had our guards make their moves and worked it inside,” said Sheetz. “We did what we had to do.”

Century scored five straight to regain the lead, 55-51, with 2:13 left in regulation. Sheetz converted two free throws and Allen hit one of two, bringing the Lions within a point and setting the stage for a back-and-forth final minute.

Allen put Liberty up, 56-55, with a basket with 56.2 seconds left, but Owings’ two free throws gave Century the lead back with 44.6 seconds remaining.

Owings made it 58-56 with a free throw with 27.3 seconds to play. After Liberty timeout with 21.6 seconds left, Sheetz’s 3-point play put the Lions up, 59-58.

Owings was fouled on a drive to the basket, and dropped both free throws with five seconds left. Allen inbounded the ball to Adams who turned and passed the ball to Sheetz just over the midcourt line.

The senior did the rest.

“Justin has put in a lot of hard work,” said Tombs. “Putting the ball in his hands allows him to be the playmaker that he is. He came up big.”

Played in packed gyms the last several seasons, this year’s matches have been played in front of a handful of fans, due to COVID-19 restrictions. Carroll County is the only Baltimore area school system holding athletic events so far this winter.

“We’re upset we lost tonight, our guys are competitive and we got a lot of seniors on the team. But when you step back and take a look at it, we’re grateful for the opportunity to be even playing,”  said Century coach George Wunder. “Whether it’s a game or a practice, we appreciated it. We work hard everyday and appreciate being around each other.”

“It’s unfortunate other counties can’t play, but I’m glad Carroll County made the right calls,” said Sheetz. “We have protocols and everyone seems to be staying safe.”

Liberty 61, Century 60

Liberty – Sam Allen 14, Shane Stewart 13, Jayden Adams 12, Justin Sheetz 12, Michael Tombs 6, Cam Hedges 2, Phil Sackett 2. Totals 20 19-25 61.

Century – Noah Riley 19, Colby Owings 18, John Pavlick 11, George Berbakos 5, Nick Prokic 3, Austin Diehl 2, Jimmy Rogers 2. Totals 21 11-16 60.

Liberty 15 12 13 21 – 61

Century 17 12 15 16 – 60