By TAYLOR GRAFFT
The Liberty Hill Lady Panthers basketball team started the new year off with a win Jan. 3 in their district opener after they played suffocating defense in the second half.
The home win in the Panthers’ Den put the Lady Panthers back on track after they fell to Bowie in their last non-district matchup of the season one week earlier.
Led by Ashlee Walker and a full-court press, the Lady Panthers cruised to a 51-25 victory over the Llano Yellowjackets Jan. 3.
Walker led the Panthers with 20 points in the game, while Shelby Whitten and Chelsea Cole added eight points each.
Captain and senior leader Blair Lord missed the game due to an ankle injury, but several players stepped up big in her absence to make sure the Lady Panthers didn’t miss a beat.
The Lady Panthers’ best scoring output came in the third quarter when they hit five team three-pointers to pull away from the Yellowjackets. They also held Llano to two points in the third quarter behind some of the best defense they’ve played so far this season.
When asked what he thought was the biggest improvement since the Bowie game, Head Coach Matt Kirschner said it happened in the third quarter.
“The third quarter against Llano we limited our number of turnovers,” said Kirschner. “We played within ourselves and didn’t throw the ball away very often. We gained some confidence back. When you don’t turn the ball over you keep your confidence. We shot the ball better and played good defense, especially in the third quarter. I have a smart group of girls and they can do whatever I ask them to do.”
Both teams found themselves deadlocked at 11-all at the end of the first quarter. In the second quarter, Baylie Bevers hit two free throws to give the Panthers a two-point lead.
Shelby Whitten hit a jumper from the elbow and Walker hit a three from the right corner to put the Lady Panthers on top by five points with 5:29 remaining.
Llano was able to cut the Liberty Hill lead to four points after getting to the foul line and putting themselves in the one-and-one bonus.
With Liberty Hill leading 20-16 with 0:16 seconds remaining in the half, Bevers found Walker, who was making a nice cut to the basket, for an easy two points in the paint.
Liberty Hill took a 22-16 lead into the half.
In the second half, the Lady Panthers played with a fire on both ends of the court and pulled away.
In the third quarter, Whitten hit a three from the right wing with 7:10 remaining to give the team a 25-16 lead. Walker hit a three on the next possession to increase that lead to double digits.
Baskets from Bevers and Cole gave the Lady Panthers a 32-18 lead with over four minutes remaining. Cole, Whitten and Bella Turek each hit three-pointers for Liberty Hill to give the team a 41-18 lead with 1:33 remaining.
A layup by Kaylie Potts and a putback by Allee Nix ended the third quarter with the Lady Panthers leading 45-18.
In the fourth and final quarter, Bridgett House’s back-the-back assist from the post set up Walker for an easy two points.
Llano finally scored with 4:56 remaining in the game after the Lady Panthers held them scoreless since the four-minute mark in the third quarter.
Llano got two baskets and a free throw in the final three minutes of the game, but overall the Lady Panthers played lockdown defense and forced the Lady Yellowjackets to take bad shots.