By Joseph Garcia
CORPUS CHRISTI – Liberty Hill’s path to the state finals in Austin could not have been any sweeter.
For the rights to play at the regional tournament Corpus Christi, the Lady Panthers slayed the district opponent who knocked them out of the 2011 playoffs in Salado.
After the victory, Coach Matt Kirschner learned heated foe Burnet would be making the trip to the coast as well.
Burnet played in the early game on Friday night at the American Bank Center and handily won 64-36 over West Columbia, setting the stage for a possible showdown between the district opponents if Liberty Hill took care of business.
Well, all the Lady Panthers did in their game was dominate local West Oso to the tune of 61-13, making the regional final on the home court of the Corpus Christi A&M Islanders a District 25-3A matchup.
There were no secrets between the two opponents, and no love lost either.
The adrenalin was running high for both teams and the Lady Dawgs capitalized on the rush. However, the Lady Panthers prowled back, winning the most important basketball matchup with Burnet in school history 58-36.
“That is the sweet part about it because we wanted to send Burnet home,” said senior Lorrie Potts. “We wanted to do it; we didn’t want the other team to send them home. It’s really special for us to be able to beat Burnet like that and go to state.”
After a Taylor Russell 3-pointer, the Lady Panthers could not find the basket while Burnet was on a roll after making a 9-0 run. Burnet led 11-5 after the first quarter, prompting the Liberty Hill players to come together and make sure the focus was there.
Burnet increased its lead to eight points (13-5). Then the resilient Lady Panthers dug deep and outscored the Lady Dawgs 13-9 for the rest of the second quarter.
The turning point was midway through the second quarter when senior guard Lorrie Potts drained a corner three to give the Lady Panthers their first lead of the game.
Coach Kirschner said the offense was simply starting to click.
“Instead of settling for jump shots like we did in the first quarter we started attacking the rim to get them some confidence,” he said. “And then with the three’s we did it within the offense.”
Burnet kept it close when Potts hit her second trey of the quarter making the score 16-15. Led by eight points from Potts and six from Jessica Green, Liberty Hill earned a 22-18 lead at the half.
Potts was just warming up.
Not only did she take a charge in the third quarter to fire up the Liberty Hill bench, she then nailed back-to-back 3-pointers to assist the Lady Panthers in pulling away from the Lady Dawgs.
“I can’t even explain the feeling,” Potts said of her shooting. “Everything felt like it was going in and I couldn’t have done any on this without the penetration of our team. Jessica (Green) did an amazing job tonight of penetrating the defense, that’s what opened me up.”
The quarter ended with Kourtney Bevers hitting her second three of the period as the buzzer sounded to give Liberty Hill a 43-23 lead with one quarter to play for a trip to state.
Liberty Hill’s defense allowed only five points in the third with the Lady Panthers outscoring Burnet 21-5.
Green closed out a solid game with six fourth-quarter points, while Jordan Redmond added five.
Potts led Liberty Hill with 14 points, Green finished with 12, Bevers with 11, Redmond with eight and Russell with seven.
“I don’t know (what they ate),” joked Coach Kirschner. “But I am going to have to ask them what they ate because they are going to have to eat the same thing next week.”
So what does a champion eat before the big game?
“To be honest, I ate a bag of chips and some candy and I had a Dr. Pepper,” said high scorer Potts. “I couldn’t have lunch before the game because I was so nervous, but that’s what I had.”
As for serving up a bittersweet feeling to Burnet – which made it to the regional championship game to be knocked out by their least favorite team – the Lady Panthers’ sentiments are seemingly methodical.
“It makes us feel good that our district was a hard district if we are playing in the regional championship game against one of our own,” said Liberty Hill’s emotional leader Bevers. “I’m glad we came out and took care of business.”