Panthers undefeated in tight district race

By Joseph Garcia

Corey McKinzey drives along the baseline for two points in the Runnin’ Panthers win over Salado. (www.ThunderstruckPhotos.com)

Corey McKinzey drives along the baseline for two points in the Runnin’ Panthers win over Salado. (www.ThunderstruckPhotos.com)

Two more down, two to go.

Trying to emulate what the Lady Panthers just pulled off – finishing the regular season as undefeated district champs – the Runnin’ Panthers still have their work cut out for them with 6-2 Burnet and 5-3 Lampasas standing in the way.

Most recently, Liberty Hill (8-0) handled the lowly 0-8 Llano Yellow Jackets in a physical 72-31 win Tuesday, Feb. 7. Before that, the Runnin’ Panthers faced a tough Salado (4-4) team looking to fight for the third and final playoff spot with Lampasas and Burnet in District 25-3A.

With Liberty Hill only up 33-26 at halftime, the Runnin’ Panthers used a 21-5 run in the third quarter that put the Salado Eagles out of reach. Liberty Hill pulled away fro a 72-51 win.

As has been the theme for the Panthers in the last few games, defense was key to the in-game turnaround.

“I thought the difference was the defense,” said Liberty Hill Coach Barry Boren. “I thought our kids buckled down and did a really good job defensively. We’ve got the capability to play good defense, we didn’t do it all the time tonight, but part of the difficulty with handling Salado is they are a very well coached team.”

That good coaching, by Salado’s Kenny Mann, pushed the Eagles to a 15-15 tie in the first quarter until Liberty Hill went on a 6-0 run to close out the period.

Senior guard Stephen Graves hit back-to-back three-point buckets to start the game for Liberty Hill as part of his 10 points in the period. Junior Blake Danielak also hit a trey in the first adding to his total of seven in the quarter.

Junior point guard Shane LaCaille picked things up in the second, scoring seven in the quarter to help put the Panthers up 33-26 at halftime.

With the score so close and the offense not quite clicking, Coach Boren made sure his players knew what to do in the locker room at the half.

“(At halftime) we talked about some things that we weren’t doing and we did a better job the second half,” Boren said. “We were giving up some offensive rebounds that we kind of shut down in the (second half).”

One of those things, simply enough, was making shots.

Graves and LaCaille scored all but two of Liberty Hill’s points in the third quarter, nailing two 3’s each. Graves finished the period with 10, while LaCaille added nine. Tyeler Greenstreet scored two of his seven points in the quarter.

“Stephen (Graves) and the other guys got hot,” Boren explained of the third quarter run. “Between Stephen (Graves), Shane (LaCaille) and Blake (Danielak) they all scored in double figures.”

Graves led all scorers with 24 points; LaCaille added 23 and Danielak netted 11 and multiple boards, including his 200th rebound of this season.

After the game Coach Boren talked about the final district meeting between Liberty Hill and Salado – who will be moving down to 2A.

“I’m not going to miss playing them,” he said. “But I’m going to miss seeing those people because they are good people.”

The Panthers, who clinched a playoff spot, are now faced with two more games to reach their goal. First is Parents Night vs. Burnet on Friday, Feb. 10, before traveling to Lampasas to take on the Badgers. Both tips are set for 6:30 p.m.

Seeing Red

Texas Tech University confirmed Monday, Feb. 6, that 6-7 Liberty Hill junior forward Blake Danielak verbally committed to play basketball for Coach Billy Gillispie and the Red Raiders.

While the New York Giants were celebrating their Super Bowl win Sunday night, Danielak orally committed to Gillispie, who attended the Salado game on Friday, Feb. 3, as his first pledge of the 2013 class.

Liberty Hill Coach Barry Boren said that Danielak recently informed him of the decision and that it is a “big weight off his shoulders and that he just wanted to focus on winning a state championship.”

Danielak, 16, averages 16 points, 7.4 rebounds and five blocks per game this season.

Ray Danielak, Blake’s father, played at Southwest Texas State (Texas State University) when Gillispie was a graduate assistant coach during his first two seasons, beginning in 1983. His sister, Kristina, is a junior forward at Cornell University.

A verbal commitment is non-binding until a player signs a national letter of intent.