CLARKSBURG -- When Liberty's Mike Menear scored five straight points to give the Mountaineers a 41-36 lead over Ritchie County with 4:07 to play, victory seemed within grasp for the home team.
But the Rebels refused to roll over, and instead rallied to outscore their hosts 16-4 in the final 3:49 of play to pull out a 52-45 victory in the prep basketball opener for both squads Wednesday night.
Junior Brady Henger and senior Ryan Jones combined for 13 of those final 16 points. Henger's drive to the hoop with 2:44 remaining gave the Rebels a 42-41 lead, a lead they would not relinquish.
But it was Henger's 3-point shooting off the bench that proved to be the difference in the game.
The guard scored a game-high 18 points, which included four 3-point goals.
Jones, the only returning starter from last season's team, added 12 points and pulled down a game-high 15 rebounds. Teammate Scott Moore added 11 points.
Menear scored 15 points to pace the Mountaineers. He was aided by Aaron Wolfe's strong all-around game.
The 5-foot-9 guard pulled down 11 rebounds, scored nine points and handed out four assists. Trenton Wilkinson chipped in nine rebounds.
Had Liberty been more proficient at the free throw line, the late lead might have been harder to overtake. The Mountaineers made just three of 13 from the free throw line, which included four missed front ends of one-and-one situations.
Twenty-eight turnovers were also key to the loss.
"If we make our free throws and we take care of the ball, we would've won," Liberty coach Russ Nutt said. "But the most glaring thing I see is they outscored us 21-6 on threes."
Henger wasn't the only Rebel reserve to make his presence felt.
David Parsons entered the game late in the third quarter and promptly hit a 3-pointer to give Ritchie County a 33-32 advantage heading into the final quarter of play. His 3-pointer off the left wing tied the game at 36 with 5:40 to play.
"Those two kids off the bench really hurt us with those 3-pointers," Nutt said. "But overall, I was pleased with our defense, our hustle and our togetherness.
"I was pleased with the effort of every kid who stepped on the floor."
Liberty (0-1) will be back in action Friday, visiting Clay-Battelle.
Sports writer Greg Talkington can be reached at 626-1444 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org