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Randle leads Ridgeview past Liberty in girls basketball playoff opener, 71-55

Talk about being in the right place at the right time.

Ridgeview senior Makaiyah Randle has a special knack of doing just that, and in Thursday’s playoff opener, it was no different.

Randle scored a game-high 28 points, grabbed several key rebounds and led a Wolf Pack defense that disrupted visiting Liberty all night as top-seeded Ridgeview posted a 71-55 victory over the No. 8 Patriots in the Central Section Division II quarterfinals.

“She is playing well,” said Ridgeview coach Travis Bivens of Randle, who missed nearly two years while recovering from an ACL injury. “I’ve been talking to different coaches, and hey, she hasn’t even scratched the surface yet because she can jump, she has good hands, she can finish around the basket and I’m trying to get her play the guard position so she’ll have more looks to get to the next level.”

The Wolf Pack (8-3) will host the winner of Saturday’s matchup between No. 5 Nipomo and No. 4 Porterville-Monache in Tuesday’s semifinal game.

“This was very important for our ego, because we’re young,” Bivens said. “We just need to have everybody healthy so we can make that stretch run if that time comes.”

Although Ridgeview had a comfortable lead throughout, Randle was at her best when Liberty began to show signs of life. After the Patriots had pulled to within 29-18 with 2:08 left in the first half, Randle scored six of the next eight points, and when Jordan Francisco nailed a 3-pointer, the Wolf Pack took a 43-24 lead into halftime.

“Sometimes I don’t like getting off to too quick of a start because they get too lax,” Bivens said. “What I try to do is I try to play with pace. Even if we miss layups, keep attacking, keep attacking. And hopefully we can wear someone down.”

Francisco, who had all 13 of her points in the first half, and Randle tied for high-point honors during that stretch, with sophomore Journie Hayden adding 11 of her 13 points in the opening 12 minutes of play.

Trailing by 19 at the half, the Patriots outscored Ridgeview 13-5 in the first six minutes of the second half as Anderson began to heat up. She had just two free throws in the first half, but she had seven of her 16 second-half points during the run that pulled Liberty within 48-37 with 2:20 left in the third quarter.

But Ridgeview junior Janae Hutson, the daughter of Fresno State men’s basketball coach Justin Hutson and the granddaughter of former longtime Bakersfield High coach Mark Hutson, scored the final seven points of the quarter to give her team a 55-37 lead.

When Liberty tried to creep closer in the fourth quarter following a Ridgeview technical that led to three free throws, Randle settled things down with a short jumper and then a basket off a rebound to restore order. She had 10 points in the final quarter, her final basket coming on an inside move off a nice pass from Alexus Macias that gave the Wolf Pack a 69-48 lead with 1:35 to play.

Ridgeview took control of Thursday’s game from the opening tip, pressuring Liberty (5-5) into several turnovers as the Wolf Pack scored the first nine points of the game. The Patriots also received a jolt when leading scorer Hannah Anderson was whistled for two fouls in the first 1:32 and the sophomore standout didn’t return until the start of the second quarter.

“I only had two returning players so everybody was fresh and I have a lot of young players that haven’t really played up at this level yet,” Liberty coach Amy Hall said. “So I think it was kind of a wake-up call in that first quarter definitely. And then there were a lot of fouls and we didn’t really settle into ourselves. Once we did, though … I’m proud of what they did, but there’s definitely things we know now that we need to work on to get there.”

By then, Liberty had just one field goal as an aggressive Wolf Pack defense held them in check. Ridgeview led 29-14 with 3:51 left in the first half after Francisco made one of two free throws.

But the Patriots stayed within striking distance, capitalizing on Ridgeview’s mounting foul trouble. Liberty was 16 of 20 from the free throw line in the first half, with one field goal until scoring three straight to close out the first 16 minutes of play, but still trailed 43-24. Junior Dilan Cook had nine of her 16 points in the first half for the Patriots.