Unforgettable season for the Runnin’ Panthers

The Runnin’ Panthers after their win over West Oso. Standing from left are Sam Berg, Austin Davis, Jake Stalder, Nik Crozier, Tyeler Greenstreet, Blake Danielak, Blake Hare, Stephen Graves and Jessie Cousins. Front row from left are Tristan Heidelberg, Corey McKinzey, Robert Koepl, Callen Mikulencak, Shane LaCaille and Josh White. (www.ThunderstruckPhotos.com)

By Joseph Garcia

When the basketball season tipped off in mid-November, it may have been hard to imagine the remarkable journey that was still ahead for Liberty Hill Coach Barry Boren and his varsity team.

Coach Boren said that when last year’s team finished 30-5 and got beat in the first round of the playoffs for the second year in a row, there was a huge sense of disappointment.

But 2011-2012 would be different beginning with a framework of the team, constructed by Coach Boren. Liberty Hill once again won 30 games going 34-4 on the season.

“We began to build this team,” Boren said. “The first order of business was to interview each kid. We always do this before we start the offseason. To a man, our guys said they didn’t want to end the streak of undefeated district championships. They said they wanted to erase the bad memories of first-round playoff losses.”

The memorable moments began after the Panthers won their first three games of the season against Hyde Park Baptist, a TAPPS school, the 4A Connally Cougars and always competitive Boerne.

After a loss to Rouse that served as a wake-up-call, the Panthers headed to Marble Falls for a tournament where they took out the competition. The Runnin’ Panthers returned home as tournament champions after defeating 4A Waco University in the finals 67-63.

Following the Marble Falls Tournament, Liberty Hill traveled to Westwood High School and beat the 5A team on its home court by 30 points (97-47).

In the midst of a 12-game winning streak, Liberty Hill headed to Salado for more tournament action with the same results.

The Runnin’ Panthers notched their first 100-point game of the season (100-57) in a win over Hawkins, en route to the championship game against host Salado.

After a 79-48 win over the Eagles, the Panthers were tournament champs for the second time in seven days.

Liberty Hill followed up the Salado tourney by winning three of four games at the Fredericksburg tournament just before District 25-3A play began.

As part of a 15-game winning streak, Liberty Hill ran the table in district play going a perfect 10-0 for the third year in a row. With the victory over Lampasas in the final district game, Liberty Hill capped the fourth-consecutive 30-win season for Coach Barry Boren. The Runnin’ Panthers’ win also marked the forty-third district triumph in a row.

Then came the playoffs where the Panthers earned a first-round bye. Their first opponent was against La Vernia, a team Liberty Hill handled easily, beating the Bears 77-43 in Wimberley.

Up next for Liberty Hill was the Regional Quarterfinal in San Marcos against 27-3A champs Hondo. After a slow first quarter, Liberty Hill overpowered the Owls for a 61-48 victory, sending the team to Corpus Christi for the Region IV Tournament.

In the Regional Semifinal, Liberty Hill ousted local team Corpus Christi West Oso with a 68-51 victory, putting the Panthers in the finals.

The Runnin’ Panthers’ season ended after a 61-59 overtime loss to Corpus Christi Miller in the Region IV finals. Miller, who Coach Boren called a team of “destiny,” went on to play in the state finals in Austin and will move up to class 4A next season.

“This group has been wonderful,” Boren said. “They said they wanted to return to the Regional Tournament. Finally, they said they wanted to go to state. Winning 30 games was never a goal of mine; it was a goal of theirs. Guess what? They did everything they set out to do except one.”

While a trip to the Frank Erwin Center was not in the cards for Liberty Hill in 2012, Coach Boren said when he reflects upon this team, he will do so fondly.

“I really liked coaching this bunch,” he said. “They were smart, hardworking, skilled, funny and loyal. They were very coachable, very adaptable and very flexible. I enjoyed having conversation with them. I think it is obvious that I care very deeply for them, and I will miss them very much.”

Boren said that through the journey that was the 2011-2012 season, an unforgettable bond was formulated between coach and players.

“These guys and I have been in the trenches together,” Boren explained. “We have shared times that none of us will ever forget. To obtain this feeling, to feel it in its fullness, is the reason that men (old men like me, young men like my son) choose this as a profession. Neither the pain of defeat nor the thrill of victory matches the enduring feeling that comes from this relationship. It is the elixir that makes me want to keep returning to the fountain.”