By Joseph Garcia
SALADO — It is no longer a secret that the Liberty Hill Lady Panthers have a good basketball team. And as long as they keep winning there will be a target on their backs for the remaining six district games and will get opposing team’s best shot.
The road trip to Salado was no exception as the Lady Eagles gave the visiting Lady Panthers all they could handle. After splitting the regular season games with Salado last year and losing to the Lady Eagles in the playoffs, the home team had all the confidence in the world they could upset the No. 9 team in class 3A.
After crawling out of a 6-0 hole in the first quarter, the Lady Panthers stormed back to hand the Lady Eagles their first district loss of the season 40-35 in a close and scrappy battle.
“Winning 40-35, I’ll take that because it gives us another playoff-type game,” said Liberty Hill Coach Matt Kirschner. “We split last year in district and they beat us in the playoffs, but they’ve always known they can play with us.”
Liberty Hill (4-0, 24-4) only managed two points in the first period as Salado (3-1, 12-11) came out with confidence and full of energy. The Lady Eagles led 8-2 after the first, taking advantage of Liberty Hill turnovers and missed shots.
Once the first-quarter jitters were out, the Lady Panthers came alive in the second going on a 17-7 run sparked by good defense that led to steals and points.
Senior Taylor Russell led the Lady Panther attack with six points in the second, but it was really a team effort with four other Liberty Hill players scoring. Senior Jordan Redmond added four, Kourtney Bevers put in three, while Lorrie Potts and Maddie Metzger added two each.
The big offensive quarter gave Liberty Hill a 19-15 advantage at the half. Coach Kirschner said the difference maker in the quarter was rebounding.
“In the first quarter we were one and done on shots,” he said. “Finally (in the second) the girls’ intensity went up after I told them to go crash some boards and make some things happen. We got it going.”
Liberty Hill was able to increase its lead by six points after outscoring Salado 13-7 in the third quarter. Senior Jessica Green got things going for herself after draining a three to start the half. She added six more points in the quarter along with a couple of steals to help push the Panthers to a 32-22 lead. And Coach Kirschner had a piece of advice for the girls as the game went on.
“I told the girls when you play that first quarter most teams are going to be very well coached,” he explained. “But once you get into that second and third quarter the kids are going to revert back to what they do and forget about some of the coaching.”
Salado kept in the game by making free throws and the solid play of the Lady Eagles’ Carling Urben who finished with 21 on the night to lead all scorers.
In the fourth, Salado made a comeback attempt as they outscored Liberty Hill 13-8. But the period began with a near full-court football pass from Green to Bevers who made the layup at the other end. The score gave Liberty Hill a 34-22 lead.
The Lady Eagles cut the lead down to 37-33 with 1:52 left to play and had an opportunity to do more as they had possession down 39-35 with 34 ticks left on the clock. However, Green stepped in front of the inbounds pass and made three of her final four free throws to close out Salado for a 40-35 victory.
No matter how they come, Coach “K” will take the “W.”
“Coming into somebody else’s house in district is going to be hard,” he said. “It was a good win.”
Next for the Lady Panthers is a meeting with Llano on Friday, Jan. 20, beginning at 6:30 p.m. at the Panthers Den.