By JOSEPH GARCIA
It may have been the first game of the new year for the Liberty Hill Lady Panthers, but it was also their seventh game in seven days. And while Coach Matt Kirschner admits the team seemed a bit low on steam, the Lady Panthers pulled out their seventh win in as many attempts Monday night at the Panthers Den.
In their final tune up before District 25-3A play opens, the Lady Panthers willed and ran their way to a 67-32 victory over the visiting Waco Connally Lady Cadets. The win capped a seven-game winning streak after falling to a high-ranking Brownwood team 46-43 in a tough game Dec. 20.
The seven-game stretch included winning the Wimberley Tournament with wins over the likes of Hays, Lake Travis and Cedar Ridge. Liberty Hill (20-4) followed its tournament championship with a 78-33 win over Austin Travis on Dec. 30, before hosting Waco Connally in the first game of 2012 on Monday, Jan. 2.
While the Lady Panthers won, it was not always easy.
“Playing seven games without practice after a five-day layoff is hard,” said Kirschner. “We came out a little sluggish. We didn’t have any type of routine today. I didn’t bring them in early to let them have their last day of break. ”
Playing two players short with Maddie Metzger (appendix) and Lorrie Potts (leg) out, Liberty Hill was running on fumes after logging a tremendous amount of minutes in one calendar week. The outcome was never really in question, but the Lady Panthers led by only nine at the half 29-20.
“Whenever you play seven games within 10 days it’s hard on the body,” Kirschner explained. “It’s also hard on the memory because we’ve had to play different styles (of basketball).”
As a team, Liberty Hill missed seven free throws in the first half – a telling sign of a team with weary legs. But scoring was evenly divided as Jessica Green (6), Kourtney Bevers (6), Taylor Russell (7) and Jordan Redmond (6) all contributed at least six points in the first half of play.
The second half was a different story.
With both teams utilizing an up-tempo style of play, Liberty Hill’s endurance and toughness was tested, but the Lady Panthers passed with flying colors.
“I kind of got on them at halftime and they really stepped up in the second half,” Kirschner said.
Liberty Hill’s offensive attack exploded for 23 points in the third quarter, while the defensive intensity picked up as well, only allowing four Connally points to be scored. The near-perfect quarter left the Lady Panthers securely on top 51-24 with the final period remaining.
In the fourth, Liberty Hill outscored Connally 15-8 led by seven points off the bench from senior Stephanie Metzger, including a three-point bucket. Green led the Lady Panthers with 18 points while Redmond had a nice game with 14. Bevers and Russell each finished with 11 with Metzger scoring seven and Floyd with six.
Kirschner said Maddie Metzger, who underwent an appendectomy, will be back for sure on Friday and is hopeful for Potts’ return as well.
Liberty Hill’s 67-32 win over Waco Connally was the final non-district game on the schedule.
“They are ready,” Kirschner said of his team. “I have got them about as ready as I can before district and 20-4 is not an easy deal to do. Getting 20 wins is always something I want to do and doing it before district is even harder.”
District 25-3A competition opens Friday, Jan. 6, at the Panthers Den against heated rival Burnet. Tipoff is set for 6:45 p.m.
With the regular season out of the way, the games mean so much more leading up to the playoffs. Coach Kirschner’s message to his team was simple.
“I told the seniors that all I can guarantee you is 10 more games,” he said. “The rest is up to them.”