By TAYLOR GRAFFT
The Liberty Hill Runnin’ Panthers basketball team came out strong in their first home game at the Panthers’ Den Tuesday.
Freshman Zach Lord and senior captain Tristian Heidelberg each finished with 11 points. Three other players, Callen Mikulencak, Austin Boliek and Josh Sudekum, added nine points each.
Heidelberg hit three three-pointers in the game and went 2/4 from the free throw line. Mikulencak led the Panthers in rebounding with nine boards. He also finished with three assists and three steals.
Lord added six rebounds and two blocks in his Liberty Hill debut, going 2/3 from the free throw line and he even connected on a three-ball in the third quarter.
“The last several years defense hasn’t really been a trademark of our team,” said Head Coach Barry Boren. “I thought our guys played off of one another really well. Austin Boliek probably played the best game I’ve ever seen him play in his career. When you can get a spark like that off your bench, it just makes all the difference in the world.”
Liberty Hill jumped out to a 9-4 lead following a steal by Sudekum and easy bucket for two from the right post. Lehman got into foul trouble very early in the game, putting Liberty Hill in the bonus with 0:25 seconds remaining in the first quarter.
Mikulencak was fouled on a drive to the lane and converted both free throws to take a six point, 12-6 lead. Lord hit a basket in the low post with one second remaining to put the Panthers up 14-8 to end the first quarter.
In the second quarter, Lehman went on a 6-0 run to tie the game at 14-all. Lehman then took the lead on a basket from underneath with 5:34 remaining.
Mikulencak got to the line on the Panthers next possession and hit both free throws to tie the game at 16-all. Lehman picked up a technical and two more fouls to put Liberty Hill in the double bonus. Lord was fouled with 3 minutes remaining and hit one free throw to tie the game at 19-all.
A three-pointer by Mikulencak put the Panthers up by three points with 2:11 remaining in the half. Going into halftime the Panthers led 23-21.
To start the third quarter, the Panthers took a five-point lead following an and-one opportunity for freshman Lord after he made a basket underneath and was fouled.
The Panthers hit four three-points in a row to start the third quarter. Heidelberg hit a right-corner three with 6:42 remaining to put the Panthers up by six. Heidelberg then hit another three from the right corner on the Panthers’ next possession. Lord then showed his range by hitting a trey from the top of the key with just under five minutes to play. Sudekum then hit a three from the right wing with 2:15 remaining to give the Panthers a 12-point lead.
The Panthers ended the third quarter with a 42-30 lead after scoring 19 points in the quarter.
In the fourth quarter, the Panthers managed to control the clock and get to the free throw line. Heidelberg was fouled with five minutes left in the game and hit both free throws to make it 48-33.
Austin Boliek finished an easy layup after a nice assist by Mikulencak with four minutes remaining to give the Panthers a 50-33 lead.
On the Panthers’ next possession, Mikulencak got to the line after being fouled and hit two free throws with just under three minutes left. Those two points would give the Panthers their largest lead of the game, 52-33.
Sudekum scored from the short-corner with seconds remaining to give the Panthers a 54-36 win and push their overall record to start the season to 2-0.