Runnin’ Panthers reach perfection

Senior Robert Koepl lays up two points in the Runnin’ Panthers’ 56-38 victory over district rival Burnet on Parents Night last week. (www.ThunderstruckPhotos.com)

By Joseph Garcia

The final two hurdles have successfully been jumped by the Liberty Hill Runnin’ Panthers, matching a perfect 10-0 record in District 25-3A with their female counterparts, the Lady Panthers.

By defeating Burnet and Lampasas, Liberty Hill successfully completed its third straight year with an unblemished district record. The victories also capped the fourth consecutive 30-win season for Coach Barry Boren and the Runnin’ Panthers and marked the 43rd district triumph in a row.

Coach Boren said the reason for the team’s success comes down to family.

“They are good people and I always say this: when we win it’s because of two things — good kids and good parents,” he said.

The Panthers made quick work of the Lampasas Badgers who were only looking to play spoiler since Salado grabbed the final playoff spot in the district.

Liberty Hill allowed only nine first-half points to Lampasas and held the Badgers to a season-low in points for a 54-24 win.

Senior Stephen Graves and junior Blake Danielak each scored 14 points in the win.

Before traveling to Lampasas, the Panthers played their final home game as parents were honored along with the players.

Seniors Stephen Graves, Robert Koepl, Blake Hare, Corey McKinzey, Nik Crozier and Tyeler Greenstreet all played their final game at the Panthers Den.

Before the game, parents and players surrounded Coach Boren at center court for a speech.

“You guys trusted me with your boys and it’s not something I take lightly,” Boren told the parents. “Truth be told, they probably have spent more time in this gym than they have at home these last four years. I’ve had a lot of influence and you guys have given me a lot of credit and I just want you to know that I really appreciate you letting me work with you boys.”

Following the Parents Night ceremony, the Panthers tipped off against the Burnet Bulldogs for likely the final time this season.

Junior Shane LaCaille helped lead the Runnin’ Panthers to a 7-0 run to close the first quarter and take a 15-9 lead. He had eight points in the period.

However, in the second quarter points were hard to come by as Liberty Hill only managed nine points. Despite great hustle from Koepl who was diving all over the court for loose balls, Burnet made a big run in the final 2:30, outscoring the Panthers 13-9 to close the gap to 24-21 at halftime.

Similar to the recent Salado game, the third quarter made all the difference.

Liberty Hill started the second half with an 11-0 run as six different Panthers scored in the third quarter. The defense stepped up as well only allowing seven Burnet points as Liberty Hill increased its lead to 39-28 with one quarter left.

“We still struggled at times, but Burnet had a lot to do with that,” Boren said. “They are a well-coached team. It’s a tribute to our kids that we came out in the second half and did what we had to do.”

Tyeler Greenstreet led the Panthers in the final quarter with seven points while LaCaille added five, closing out the Bulldogs for a 56-38 win.

LaCaille finished the game with 14 and Graves ended with 13 in the victory.

With the perfect district schedule all wrapped up, Liberty Hill now looks to the post-season.

“This is where we wanted to be,” Boren said. “We don’t know where or who we are going to play, but now that we are the district champs we can start looking at that sort of stuff.”

The Runnin’ Panther earned a first-round bye and will most likely play either La Vernia or Carrizo Springs Friday, Feb. 24.

Liberty Hill will play a warm up game Saturday, Feb. 18, at Glen Rose High School against the champs of District 8-3A, Alvarado.