By TAYLOR GRAFFT
The Liberty Hill Lady Panthers basketball team picked up a steam of confidence after taking first place in the Salado Tournament last week.
The Lady Panthers pushed their overall record to 9-3 with a 50-36 win over the Eagles Tuesday night and now turn their focus to Hutto on Friday in an away game.
Head Coach Matt Kirschner said that he actually likes tournaments better than practice because it allows his team to go game-speed and play against quality competition non-stop for a few days.
“I felt like we were still feeling the effects of playing five games in three games because the girls are still tired,” said Coach Kirschner. “I was a little worried at times the energy wasn’t what it needed to be.”
The Lady Panthers focused a lot on moving the ball quicker on the offensive end to get their teammates open looks.
“We’re still playing for the name on the front of the jersey,” Kirschner said. “I told them during the game that I wasn’t worried about who scores, Liberty Hill has to score. So it’s all about the team. I have a group of girls that understand where the ball needs to go and where to position themselves on set-plays. Despite the win, I thought we played a little selfish tonight, so we have to stay patient because those things are going to happen at times.”
Junior guard Ashlee Walker has been consistent for the Lady Panthers through the start of the season and continued her strong efforts with another high-scoring game. Walker finished with 18 points in the win and recorded five steals.
“Ashlee (Walker) has been very steady for us so far,” Coach Kirschner said. “This is a kid that I know how good she can be and has a lot of potential. She’s a player that has always started with the defense. Most players you’ll see start in the gym shooting the ball, but it’s rare to see a kid that wants to practice defense.”
Junior point guard Shelby Whitten added nine points in the win, going 2-for-3 from three-pointers. Whitten also had three steals in the game.
Junior wing player Baylie Bevers scored six points and grabbed five rebounds and helped the team from the free-throw line in the final stretch.
The Lady Panthers opened the scoring with Blair Lord hitting a shot from the elbow 30 seconds into the game. The Eagles went on to tie the game at 4-all at the six-minute mark, before Beavers scored a basket in the low post with 5:50 remaining in the quarter.
Seconds later, Walker got a steal on the inbounds pass and scored on a pull-up jumper from the free-throw line.
Whitten hit a three-pointer from the right wing that was assisted by junior Jill Green with five minutes remaining. Green was then fouled on the Panthers’ next possession and hit one of her free throws at the line to increase Liberty Hill’s lead to 12-6.
Sophomore Kaylie Potts hit a three from the right corner with 2:26 remaining in the first quarter to build upon that lead. On the Lady Panthers’ next possession, sophomore Megan Huppee was fouled with two minutes left and hit before free throws to put the Panthers up 17-6.
Whitten hit her second three pointer of the quarter with 1:31 remaining to increase the lead to 20-9. Walker then ended the quarter with an easy layup after stealing the ball on a fastbreak. The team lead 22-9 going into the second quarter.
Savio went on a 3-0 run to start the second quarter after picking up a basket in the lane and a point from the free throw line. Liberty Hill responded with a 5-0 run with Walker scoring three points form the free-throw line and a layup from Green.
Huppee hit a pull-up jumper with 2:35 remaining in the half to build the Lady Panthers’ lead to 29-15.
Walker forced another turnover on the Eagles’ fastbreak and then scored an easy layup off the steal. Walker hit a three-pointer with 0:31 seconds remaining to take a 34-20 lead into halftime.
In the second half, the Panthers allowed the Eagles to cut the game to single digits. The Eagles hit two three-pointers and a mid-range jumper to cut the game to 36-28 with 2:41 remaining in the third quarter.
Both teams went scoreless over the next two minutes, before Walker hit a contested shot and got an and-one opportunity on a foul in the lane with 0:19 seconds left in the quarter. The Panthers took a 38-28 lead into the final quarter.
The Eagles scored two baskets in the first minute of the first quarter to cut the lead to six points. For the Panthers, Walker scored after she made a back-door cut to the basket and Whitten found her wide-open with six minutes remaining in the game.
Whitten helped increase the Panthers’ lead to 45-34 at the 3:12 mark after getting a steal and scoring a layup on the fastbreak.
Walker, Amanda Boliek, and Bevers all hit clutch free-throws in the final two minutes of the game to seal the victory for the Lady Panthers.