By Joseph Garcia
It has yet to be determined what kind of team the Liberty Hill Lady Panthers will be when district play comes around in January, but it is likely they will be in every single game with a shot to win as was the case Tuesday night at the Panthers Den.
With Liberty Hill down by eight (42-34) heading into the fourth quarter, any comeback seemed unlikely. But the Lady Panthers scrapped and clawed back going on a 9-2 run and within a point of tying.
However, a few late miscues prevented Liberty Hill from getting over the hump as the Lady Panthers moved to 3-10 on the season.
“(Vandegrift) is (pretty good) and have beaten some quality people,” said Liberty Hill Coach Matt Kirschner. “I changed the lineup to try and get a spark. I think we took them a little light and weren’t really focused. We made a lot of mental mistakes.”
Vandegrift, a 4A school, came out on fire and took a quick 5-0 lead before senior forward Maddie Metzger hit a turnaround jumper for Liberty Hill’s first points. Then down 9-3, sophomore Baylie Bevers grabbed an offensive rebound and quickly went back up for the score, cutting the Lady Vipers’ lead to 9-5.
After a hot first quarter, Vandegrift was on top 16-6.
Ignited by their press defense in the second quarter, the Lady Panthers roared out to a 13-4 run to make it a one-point game at 20-19. Seven different players scored for Liberty Hill in the quarter, four of which came from Metzger.
The Lady Vipers, however, bit back with a 7-2 run that negated some of the Lady Panthers’ work to chip away at the lead and Vandegrift went into the locker room at halftime up 27-21.
“If we quit digging holes (we may have won),” Kirschner said. “We actually cut it to one before we gave (it back) right before the half. If we just keep it there, (who knows).”
Throughout the third quarter Vandegrift and Liberty Hill traded baskets that included a nifty inbounds play Cera Dixon scored on to make it 29-25. The Lady Vipers would increase their lead by two (42-34) by the quarter’s end, leaving an uphill battle for Liberty Hill.
As they have done in recent games, the Lady Panthers made it interesting and nearly pulled off the comeback as they left it all out on the court with a 9-2 run to begin the final quarter.
Dixon began the scoring followed by back-to-back Metzger baskets. Then sophomore point guard Shelby Whitten drained a 3-pointer that pulled the Lady Panthers within one at 44-43 with 3:15 to play in the game.
The Lady Vipers closed the door on a furious comeback attempt, however, with a 7-2 run to end the game, taking the 51-45 win.
Coach Kirschner said turnovers were a big reason for the loss.
“They are seeing the (passing lane) but they are staring at it too long,” he said. “That’s a quality defense and they read (our eyes). Just like in the NFL, if you stare down a receiver they are going to nab it every time.”
Liberty Hill will travel to Salado this weekend for what will be the Lady Panthers’ final non-postseason tournament. The event will be held at Salado High School from Thursday, Dec. 6 through Saturday, Dec. 8.