By Joseph Garcia
Liberty Hill’s last meeting with the Burnet Bulldogs resulted in the Runnin’ Panthers’ 43-game district winning streak ending with a 53-51 loss. On Tuesday night in front of a standing-room-only crowd, they received retribution.
The dynamic senior duo of point guard Shane LaCaille and Blake Danielak led the charge in Liberty Hill’s 67-38 win. LaCaille dropped in 23 points, with Danielak scoring 18 in final meeting ever – in any sport – against Burnet in the Panthers Den. Panther sports move into the new high school and athletic facilities in August.
The much-need district win shoots Liberty Hill to the top of the District 8-3A standings, sharing first place with Burnet, each boasting a 5-1 record.
“We wanted to get the bad taste out of our mouth from the last time we played Burnet,” said Liberty Hill Coach Barry Boren. “They out-played us, they played harder than we did and as a result they won the ball game. This time, I didn’t feel like that was a problem. The energy was really, really high and the execution was pretty good. We were just looking for an opportunity to atone and I felt like we did that tonight.”
Boren wanted his team to get out “fast,” and they did going on a 9-0 run to start the game. LaCaille got things going, hitting two 3-pointers in the first quarter. Five other Panthers scored in the opening period as Liberty Hill took a 17-5 lead into the second quarter.
The second quarter belonged to Danielak.
The 6-7 forward started the quarter off with a jumper, which he followed up with a putback dunk that excited the crowd and put the Panthers up 21-7. As part of a 12-point third quarter, Danielak also hit a three and made three free throws after being fouled on a shot from behind the arc.
LaCaille added two and so did Durity-Boatright to round out the first half scoring. The Runnin’ Panthers held a 33-15 advantage at the break.
In the third, Liberty Hill doubled its lead to 50-25 on LaCaille’s 11-point quarter. But it was Danielak once again who rocked the crowd after picking up a loose ball, gathering himself and launched into the air for a two-handed power jam. The dunk prompted the Liberty Hill student section to chant “why so quiet” to their Burnet counterparts.
“When he’s on, there’s not a kid in Texas that can stop him,” said LaCaille of Danielak. “He’s one of the best players I’ve ever seen. (His dunks) just electrified everything. It gets everybody going.”
The fourth quarter was merely a formality, but the fans stayed until the final buzzer sounded and the students rushed the court to celebrate the 67-38 victory over heated rival Burnet.
After the game, Coach Boren spoke of the maturity and evolution of his starting point guard, LaCaille, who controlled the game and kept his cool when things became chippy and of Danielak’s big night.
“I think if you look at the box scores since that (Burnet) game, I think Shane (LaCaille) submerged his identity just a bit to get the ball going where it needed to go,” Boren said. “(And) Blake is playing with a really, really, really high level of confidence right now. He hit some shots tonight that were just amazing. When we can get both those guys going, we’re in pretty good shape.”
Liberty Hill (26-3) is now ranked No. 13 in the Texas Association of Coaches poll and will host Lampasas Friday, Feb. 1, with the tipoff slated for 8 p.m.
The Runnin’ Panthers still have tilts remaining with Gatesville, Llano and Brownwood following their meeting with the Badgers. And while it was a nice, needed win against Burnet, Coach Boren knows there is still a lot of basketball to be played in not only the district, but beyond.
“We want to stay humble because we know we’ve got a long way to go,” he said. “We’re going to take (the win) and build on it.”