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Liberty extend playoff push with win over Sparks

During pregame introductions before the Liberty's 88-79 win over the Los Angeles Sparks Friday night at Madison Square Garden, Sparks coach Jennifer Gillom allowed herself a quick giggle when the Liberty's children's version of the Knick City Dancers started busting a move.

But when Cappie Pondexter put the Liberty ahead for good, 71-70, with two free throws at the 5:59 mark of the fourth quarter, Gillom was scowling. When that bucket turned into a 12-2 Liberty run to put the game out of reach, Gillom was downright mad, as she slammed her hand down on the scorer's table.

The home crowd of 14,307 sure was pleased, though. And Liberty coach Anne Donovan held her fist high when her defense forced a quick turnover after Janel McCarville's jumper made it 73-70.

Pondexter scored a game-high 20 points and McCarville added 15 to lead the Liberty.

The Liberty (13-11) has won six of its last eight and moved into a tie with Connecticut, a 94-62 loser at home to Atlanta on Friday, for the fourth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference with 10 games to play. New York will play host to Connecticut on Sunday afternoon.

Said Donovan: "There's not a game in this league that doesn't have playoff implications. It doesn't matter, truthfully, if it's L.A., or if it's Seattle, or if it's Atlanta, for us every game will help determine if we make it to the postseason."

The Liberty's largest lead of the first half came at the 3:19 mark of the second quarter when Leilani Mitchell (12 points) knocked down a three-pointer to make it 34-29. But New York didn't get back on defense, allowing Marie Ferdinand-Harris to shake free ahead of the pack and create a three-point opportunity.

Though the Liberty bench wasn't as big of a factor it was on Tuesday when it scored 41 of the team's 77 points, it still outscored the Sparks' reserves 18-15. Plenette Pierson spearheaded that charge with 14.

Kia Vaughn only had two off the bench, a jumper on her first shot. But that brought Sue Wicks, the Center Moriches native and former Liberty player at the game as a fan, up out of her first-row seat.

"This is shockingly tight in the East," Donovan said. "We've been able to climb back and put ourself in the mix. Some are gradually fading away, some are making their strongest push."

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