Hempfield’s Liberatore wrapping up notable career in leadership role

Wednesday, December 18, 2019 | 8:54 PM

Hempfield’s Sarah Liberatore is one of those high school basketball players who seems to have been playing forever.

It’s easy to picture her in Spartans blue and white.

The talented, 5-foot-10 guard has been a starter since her freshman season and has become a fixture in the rotation.

Michelle Burns, a starting junior point guard at Point Park, also seemed like she played eight years at Hempfield.

“I was just a baby when she played,” Liberatore said with a smile. How far Liberatore has come in her prep career.

The senior with the smooth jumper and sinewy drive to the basket is hoping to lead Hempfield (1-3) to the WPIAL Class 6A playoffs after missing them last season.

Her leadership qualities were honed, not forced, and she has rounded into a more complete player.

“I feel like I have come out of my shell as a teammate and leader,” Liberatore said. “I was so excited for this year. I knew I would have to score more for us, but I have been a pass-first player my whole life. I like to get my teammates involved. It’s instinctive for me to set up other girls.”

Former coach Aaron Epps used to tell Liberatore she passed up too many good shots.

Second-year Hempfield coach Tom Brush, Liberatore’s third coach in her career, said he knew what he was getting with Liberatore but wanted her to be more vocal.

“Offensively, she was our best player last year so we expected some of the same things from her,” Brush said. “She’s a great leader by example, but I wanted her to talk more. You can’t force someone to be someone they’re not. She has done a great job helping out younger girls along.”

Liberatore was averaging 19.7 points, 7.3 rebounds and 2.0 steals through three games for the Spartans, who play Thursday night at Canon-McMillan and will look to avoid an 0-3 start in Section 2-6A.

“The thing about Sarah is that she is very knowledgeable,” Brush said, “so if I tell her to do something, she understands why we do things. And she is a super person, too.”

Brush said the Spartans have yet to face any “junk” defenses on Liberatore, but it could happen.

Class 6A tends to have some of the best athletes — and depth — which allows for man-to-man defenses.

“Everyone keys on her, which is what we’d expect,” Brush said. “She handles it well. She is up to the challenge.”

Liberatore comes from an athletic family, so her abilities are not quite a surprise.

“In the past, I pressured myself because of that,” Liberatore said. “Now, I am a lot more comfortable with it. My family is so supportive. My brothers teach me.”

Collin and Jack Liberatore are college baseball pitchers, at Indiana State and Ohio, respectively.

Their parents, Craig and Ellen, both played high-level sports in college. Craig played baseball at Bowling Green, and Ellen was a swimmer at John Carroll.

Their great-grandfather, Joe Henslor, played for the Pittsburgh Pirates. Their grandfather, Ralph Liberatore, played baseball at Kansas State.

There’s more: cousins Danielle and Megan Siverling were swimmers at North Carolina and Penn State, uncle Brian Siverling played football at Penn State, aunt Sharie Rodriguez played tennis at Syracuse and uncle Jorge Rodriguez played football at Syracuse.

“Sarah Liberatore is a fabulous player,” Mt. Lebanon coach Dori Oldaker said. “She is the player we need to worry about most when we play Hempfield.”

As far as college, Liberatore has interest from Division I, III and III schools and said she is weighing her options with an eye toward academics first.

Bill Beckner Jr. is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Bill by email at bbeckner@tribweb.com or via Twitter .


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