By Joseph Garcia
The most important thing on Liberty Hill Coach Matt Kirschner’s mind last week was inching back into the top of the District 8-3A standings. He had no idea a milestone had passed because he kept on looking ahead until it finally hit him Saturday morning that he had just notched win No. 100 as the Lady Panthers’ head coach.
No. 100 as the Lady Panthers’ head coach came against the Gatesville Hornets on Jan. 18 with the final score coming out to 51-29.
Liberty Hill’s captain, Erin FitzGerald, started the Lady Panthers’ attack by scoring seven of the team’s first points in the game to help boost the score to 13-5 after the first quarter. She tabbed 12 points in the contest.
The Lady Panthers looked quick on offense and moved the ball well with crisp passing to find the open shooter. By halftime, Liberty Hill extended its lead to 33-16 with Maddie Metzger leading the way, scoring 12 of her 14 points in the first half.
Rebounding, defense, physicalness and out-hustling are the traits of this team now. And it is a good thing because when they faced Llano on Tuesday night, it was a physical battle like always.
Liberty Hill, however, played a near-identical game against the Lady Yellowjackets as the halftime score was 37-16 in favor of the Lady Panthers.
Llano did manage to close the gap in the fourth quarter when it was an 11-point game at 47-36 with 2:31 left, but Liberty Hill maintained its composure and its lead to hold on for a 53-38 victory.
Metzger topped all scorers with a 26-point performance in front of a packed Panthers Den Tuesday.
“Anytime anybody plays Llano it is going to be physical,” said Kirschner. “The kids are stepping up right now, Maddie (Metzger) stepped up and she had an excellent game tonight. Things just kind of went her way tonight and I am very proud of her. And the last two games Erin (FitzGerald) has really played well. Now we are starting to get someone to step up in every game, we just don’t know who that is (going to be). I’ve been used to that just like last year.”
The win improved the Lady Panthers’ record to 4-2 in district and 12-15 overall.
One of the main reasons for Liberty Hill’s three-game winning streak has been the team’s defensive play. Coach Kirschner said this year’s team is very flexible and quick to learn different forms of defense.
“Our defense has really come around,” Kirschner said. “We have to really clog up the lane and make it hard for teams to score. This group of kids, they can adjust. Last year we couldn’t adjust defenses. As good as we were we had to either run the press or no press. Now we can do a 2-1-2 press, which helps us and gives us a different look.”
As for Kirschner and his coaching record, with the Llano win he is now at 101 as the head man for the Lady Panthers and has a total of 119 wins in his four years as varsity coach.
He said coming to Liberty Hill to learn under the basketball guru that is Barry Boren was easily the best career move he has made.
“I came here and I owe a lot to Coach (Barry) Boren after learning his system,” he said. “I relearned how to coach. Four years with 101 wins, especially coming in with a total of just 18, I kind of turned it around. I changed my coaching style and that’s why I came to Liberty Hill. I wanted a different coaching style. The style I was using just wasn’t going to work and I never felt comfortable with it.”
Not only were wins 100 and 101 big for Kirschner, but they were huge for the Lady Panthers’ quest for a district title. With the good news that Brownwood beat Burnet on Tuesday night, Liberty Hill can control its own destiny for the most part.
Liberty Hill has a rematch with Brownwood on Friday, Jan. 25 and will try to avenge the six-point loss from earlier in the season.
“What that does is put Burnet and Brownwood each at 5-1 and us at 4-2 and one game back,” Kirschner said. “If we can win the next four and everybody does what they are supposed to, it will be a three-way tie for first. I’m proud of the girls and now we have to get back to work and look at what Brownwood did to us and see what we can do.”