Runnin’ Panthers outlast Gatesville, Llano

By Joseph Garcia

Liberty Hill senior Blake Danielak reaches out to steal the ball from a Llano ball handler in the Runnin’ Panthers’ crucial win on Tuesday. (Photo by Kathy Canady)

Through four District 8-3A contests, Liberty Hill Coach Barry Boren found one trend to hold true: If you start fast, a win is likely in store.

The Runnin’ Panthers found out the hard way to start after dropping the district opener to Burnet. But, always quick to adjust, once Boren figured out the formula, the wins were there for the taking, although  they did not come easy.

In a close battle with Gatesville on  Jan. 18, Liberty Hill used an eight-point halftime lead (24-16) it built off nine Blake Danielak points and eight more from Shane LaCaille for cushion the rest of the game.

The Hornets are a formidable, athletic squad that was looking to sneak out of Liberty Hill with a win. And in the second half, they pushed the tempo to close the gap to 29-26 and eventually 42-39 to end the third quarter.

Five different Panthers scored in the third quarter, including Danielak, who drained two threes and senior Jadon Durity-Boatright who came alive to score eight points in the second half, four of which came in the third.

It was a back-and-forth contest, in which the Hornets never gave in, but Danielak was too much as he netted 10 of his 25 points in the fourth quarter, helping lead the Panthers to a 58-52 win.

In Tuesday’s game against the visiting Llano Yellowjackets, Liberty Hill raced out to a 20 point lead after the first quarter (26-6) fueled by a bevy of threes from Danielak, who scored 14 of his 18 in the first quarter.

But after the big first quarter, things began to even out and Llano outscored Liberty Hill in the second 10-8. The Panthers led 34-16 at the half.

In what Coach Boren described as the “best team performance” this season, he received contributions from seven different players, including 14 points each from LaCaille and Tristan Heidelberg as Liberty Hill staved off a Llano comeback for a 62-40 victory.

“Once (Llano) finally got over the shell shock of the press, things kind of evened out,” said Boren. “We were lucky enough to get a big lead.

That was one of the things that we talked about before the game started; we wanted to start out fast. It seems like games here lately, the team that gets out fast is the one that wins. When we played Burnet they got out fast on us and when we played Lampasas, we got out fast on them. And even the other night when we played Gatesville, we got out fast on them and went along to win.”

Boren described Llano’s Aidan Callahan as an up-and-coming coach. The Yellowjackets are a tough, physical opponent and the Runnin’ Panthers will not take them lightly when they travel to Llano on Feb. 8.

The Yellowjackets moved the ball well, found the open man and finished at the rim.

“He is a good coach and was a great hire for Llano,” Boren said. “The only difference between Llano and a lot of other people out there is that Llano doesn’t think they are good. They did some really good stuff tonight and it was hard to cover. We were working our tail ends off. So, compliments to them because they were well-coached and physical. We know we will have our work cut out for us when we go over there.”

In the last few games, one major difference for Liberty Hill has been the guard play of LaCaille, who oversees Boren’s game plan on the court. Teams have keyed on him, leaving Danielak who has averaged 19 points in the team’s three district wins, wide open on many occasions.

On Monday, Coach Boren had a chat with LaCaille about what the role is of the point guard. Apparently, he got the message.

“I know it doesn’t show up in the score card, but I challenged Shane (LaCaille) to manage the game tonight,” Boren explained. “I said be the point guard. What does a point guard do? He manages the game, probes the defense and takes what’s there. I thought Shane did that.”

While LaCaille manages the game, Boren does so with the team and its mentality.

The Runnin’ Panthers’ next district battle is against Brownwood at the Lions’ gym on Friday, Jan 25, for an 8 p.m. tipoff. Brownwood has yet to notch a district win, going 0-4 thus far. But Boren is not letting his team look past the Lions and ahead to the matchup they have been salivating for – the rematch with Burnet on Jan. 29.

“We’ve got to control what we can and that is us,” Boren said. “We can’t worry about everybody else. I said to the team that I know we are all looking forward to playing Burnet next Tuesday, but we can’t look past Brownwood. So, my job is to try to keep them focused on the game at hand and so that’s what we are going to try to do. If we can get past Brownwood it should be wild next Tuesday night and it should be fun.”