Liberty's Plenette Pierson goes to the basket against the Phoenix...

Liberty's Plenette Pierson goes to the basket against the Phoenix Mercury's DeWanna Bonner during a game at the Prudential Center. (Sept. 5, 2012) Credit: Jason DeCrow

NEWARK -- It's been a while since Phoenix Mercury guard Samantha Prahalis played an organized basketball game in the New York area.

The last time was Dec. 19, 2010, at Madison Square Garden and Prahalis was a junior point guard playing for the Ohio State Buckeyes.

Wednesday night, the Commack product made her return to the area for the first time as a pro to take on the Liberty. However, her homecoming was spoiled as the Liberty routed the struggling Mercury, 87-59, at the Prudential Center.

The win gives the Liberty (11-16) a half-game lead over the idle Chicago Sky (10-16) for the fourth and final playoff berth in the Eastern Conference.

Plenette Pierson (13) and Cappie Pondexter totaled 23 points as the Liberty bolted to a 51-29 halftime lead.

The Liberty kept the pressure on as a layup by Alex Montgomery gave it a 67-35 lead with 2:55 left in the third quarter. "We knew Phoenix is a streaky team," Pierson said. "We knew we just had to stay focused coming out the locker room at halftime and I think we did a great job of that."

Pierson led the Liberty with 17 points, Montgomery and Kara Braxton had 12 points each and Nicole Powell finished with 10 points.

DeWanna Bonner led Phoenix with 20 points.

Prahalis didn't have much input in the contest as a first-quarter shoulder injury limited her to six minutes. "I got hurt so early that I didn't really play, but it was good to see my family," she said.

Phoenix dropped to 6-20 with the loss, but Prahalis, who didn't score, sees brighter days ahead for the Mercury.

"We want to finish out the season strong, but in the back of our heads we know it's going to be serious," said Prahalis, whose team has played much of the season without injured starters Diana Taurasi, Candice Dupree and Penny Taylor.

"All these losses we have now . . . won't be there [next year]."