By Joseph Garcia
While the Lady Panthers are already district champs and are close to wrapping up the regular season, their counterparts are trying to follow suit.
The Runnin’ Panthers took a couple of steps to do just that after beating a tough Lampasas team at home 75-42 on Jan. 27.
And after holding off a Taylor team fighting for their playoff lives 69-48 Jan. 31, the Runnin’ Panthers remain undefeated and in control of District 25-3A.
“I thought early in the (Lampasas) game we played with a lot of intensity, but it was almost like we were knocking off one another off the ball and maybe playing too hard,” Liberty Hill Coach Barry Boren said. “Coach (Rob) Shivers is a really good coach and Lampasas is a good team. They did things well and we just finally kind of spurted away from them in the second half.”
Against Lampasas, Liberty Hill came out hustling on defense, badgering the Badgers who proceeded to turn the ball over due to the Panthers’ press.
Juniors Blake Danielak and Shane LaCaille ignited the Panthers’ offense in the first quarter with six and four points, respectfully. However the Panther with the biggest impact on the night likely was senior Stephen Graves.
Graves also scored six points in the first quarter, including his first bucket off a behind-the-back assist from LaCaille that pumped up the home crowd. After one, Liberty Hill was on top 19-10.
The Liberty Hill defense, as has been the case of late, sparked the Runnin’ Panthers’ offense. Danielak had three of his 10 blocks on the night in the second quarter and LaCaille scored nine more, four on a fast break. But Lampasas stayed in the game with the score 33-23 at half time.
While Graves had a slow first half, he seemingly did everything in the second. The senior jumped in front of multiple Lampasas passes to tie the team lead in steals on the season with Tyeler Greenstreet (76). His defense and rebounding directly led to Liberty Hill scoring.
Graves did not settle for three-point baskets. He was aggressive all night, taking the ball into the teeth of the Lampasas defense. He scored 14 of his game-high 34 points in the fourth quarter, leading his team to a 75-42 victory.
Danielak added 15 points and LaCaille dropped 14 in the win over Lampasas.
“In the first half I thought (Graves) was pressing and I sat him for a while,” Boren explained. “I just told him he had to be in the game a little bit more mentally than that. He kind of had a little wake up call and it was a nice game for him offensively and defensively.”
In the last few games, the Panthers’ defense has played with a togetherness driven by the team’s intensity.
Since Liberty Hill “only” won by 13 points over Burnet last week (47-34), fans might wonder, “what happened?” However, one must look at the defensive side of the ball for both Liberty Hill and its opponents to find the answer.
As a team, Liberty Hill averages 71.9 points per game on offense, scoring a robust 2,081 points in 29 games. But when they play a talented district foe like Burnet with a coach who knows what Liberty Hill likes to do on offense and defense, the game style changes.
Burnet was breaking Liberty Hill’s press, which in turn did not play well for the Runnin’ Panthers’ offense. Coach Boren admitted as much saying, “they did a really good job of breaking our press so the tempo didn’t favor us.”
“I think last game (Burnet) a lot of people felt we played badly and what I told the guys to take away what we played well on defense,” Boren said. “You are not going to be able to score 80-plus points every night. So when that happens you better be able to hunker down and play some defense.”
With the Runnin’ Panthers becoming a well-rounded basketball team, they seem poised to finish the rest of the district schedule in strong fashion.
Liberty Hill faces Salado Feb. 3 at the Panthers Den for an 8 p.m. tip off before heading to Llano the following Tuesday. The Runnin’ Panthers close out the regular season with Parents Night vs. Burnet Feb. 10 and a trip to Lampasas Feb. 14.