Nathan Mollat/Daily Journal
Aragon guard/forward Toby Liebergesell had two of his biggest games when they mattered the most: 31 points in a triple-overtime semifinal win over Aptos and 28 points in a win over Valley Christian in the CCS Division III title.
Aragon boys’ basketball coach Sam Manu calls Alex Manu, Kevin Hahn and Toby Liebergesell the “Triplets:” three friends who have grown up playing basketball.
And at one point or another, all three factored into the Dons’ success this season.
It just so happened it was Liebergesell who raised his game the highest at the most crucial time — the Central Coast Section playoffs. Liebergesell poured in 31 points in Aragon’s 94-93, triple-overtime win over second-seeded Aptos in the semifinals. He then added 28 in the final against No. 5 Valley Christian, as Aragon won its first basketball championship in 20 years.
For his efforts, Liebergesell is this week’s Daily Journal Athlete of the Week.
“This year, I put in the work in the offseason. Coach told me to keep putting in work and I’ll find my game. I eventually found myself,” Liebergesell said.
Listed at 6-feet (on a good day) on the Aragon roster, Liebergesell was tasked with providing an inside presence for the Dons this year.
Which was a giant leap for him. Known more for his outside, spot-up shooting, mixing it down low was not necessarily part of his game last year as a first-year varsity player.
“Last year, we had a really deep team. We had eight or nine guys deep and I was just trying to find my spot (last season),” Liebergesell said. “I just worked on different elements of my game (in the offseason). God has blessed me and I thank God every day.”
Manu saw Liebergesell could be more than just a shooter. Plus, Liebergesell was the only one who stood up to take on the role of playing big down in the low block. Having coached Liebergesell since sixth grade, Manu knew what kind of basketball savvy Liebergesell possessed.
“He has the midrange game, but he’s better when he’s driving to the rim,” Sam Manu said. “His game goes to another level when he thinks rim.”
Being aggressive to the rim pays dividends for any team and it can lead to a steady path to the free-throw line, where Liebergesell made hay, going 19 for 24 in the semifinals and finals, combined.
“He plays bigger than 6-foot,” Manu said. “He has nice hops. He just plays bigger than his size.”
After doing work down low, which gets the defense to sag toward the baseline to stop Liebergesell’s drives, that just opens up the perimeter for the Dons’ sharpshooters — including Liebergesell, who can play behind the arc as well, as his four 3-pointers in two games shows.
“He’s such more of a complete player (now),” Sam Manu said.
Liebergesell’s confidence has grown as his skill set has grown, which allows him to be patient and wait for the game to come to him. When he does heat up, things generally work out well for the Dons.
Both against Aptos and Valley Christian, Aragon was teetering on the edge in the second half — between staying in the game or getting run over by the opposition. In each game, it was Liebergesell leading the charge.
“I didn’t take [the load] on myself. I let my teammates do their thing, and when [the opponent] starts focusing on them, then my opportunities to score come,” Liebergesell said.
In the semifinals against Aptos, the Mariners had erased a 15-point to lead 52-49 going into the fourth quarter, but Liebergesell scored 12 of his 31 points in the fourth quarter, to help send the game to overtime.
Against Valley Christian in Saturday’s championship game, the Dons trailed 35-29 entering the third quarter when Liebergesell scored nine of his team’s 14 third-quarter points to stay within striking distance heading into the fourth quarter.
Over the final eight minutes, Liebergesell made 5 of 6 from the free throw to ice the championship.
“We’re just scrappy kids. We’re just trying to out-hustle you and frustrate you that way. Just that no-quit attitude,” Liebergesell said. “I’ve known these guys on this team since sixth-grade. We’ve always wanted to win a CCS title together. I knew it was a realistic goal. They’re my best friends for life. I knew we could accomplish something huge.”