Lady Panthers finish as co-district champs

Junior guard Ashlee Walker is fouled from behind on a fast break against Burnet in the Lady Panthers’ 60-41 victory last week. Walker finished with 31 points and hit five third-quarter three pointers. (Photo by Kathy Canady)

Junior guard Ashlee Walker is fouled from behind on a fast break against Burnet in the Lady Panthers’ 60-41 victory last week. Walker finished with 31 points and hit five third-quarter three pointers. (Photo by Kathy Canady)

By Taylor Grafft

The Liberty Hill Lady Panthers are co-district champions after finishing the season tied for first place in District 8-3A with Brownwood. Liberty Hill will play Alvarado in the first round of playoffs at 8 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 11, in Hamilton.

This is Head Coach Matt Kirschner’s fourth consecutive district title in the five years he has coached at Liberty Hill. His first season the Lady Panthers finished in second place in district.

The Lady Panthers will enter the playoffs as the second seed after losing a coin flip to Brownwood. The Lady Panthers will begin their game preparation for the Bi-district round Thursday, after having a short workout on Wednesday afternoon.

Coach Kirschner says he will have his team’s game plan for the first round of playoffs in place by Friday evening, and will have it completed on Monday.

The Panthers finished the season with a 21-9 overall record and finished 9-1 in district. One of the most important district wins for the Lady Panthers this week was their victory over rival Burnet on the road.

The Lady Panthers may have beat the Lady Bulldogs by 19 points, but the way they won the game was even more impressive. The final score read 60-41, but the Panthers were behind 26-24 at halftime.

In the second half, junior Ashlee Walker exploded out of the locker room and hit five three pointers in the third quarter alone to give the Lady Panthers a 47-32 lead going into the final quarter.

It was one of the most impressive displays all season by Walker, who ended up with 31 points in the game. Walker has shot lights out from the three-point line in district this season. She has hit 36 three pointers on 81 attempts for an unbelievable 44.4 percent in district.

She’s not the only player that’s shot lights out from the three-point line in district. Junior Chelsea Cole is also hitting an amazing team-high 48 percent from the three-point line.

That high percentage from beyond the arc has been a theme all season for the Lady Panthers as the team finished at 38 percent from the three-point line.

Walker finished the season leading the Lady Panthers with a 14.48 points per game average. While junior Shelby Whitten finished with a 10.9 points per game average.

Against Gatesville on Tuesday night in the Lady Panthers final regular season game, the team  honored senior Blair Lord who is out for the rest of the season with injury.

Before the game on Parents Night, Coach Kirschner recognized the varsity players and team assistants. He also asked the players and student assistants to write their parents a special personal letter.

“Parents Night is always emotional for me and the players,” said Kirschner. “It is our way of saying thanks to the parents and I also get to say thanks to the players and student assistants.”

During the ceremony the varsity players and coaches honored senior Blair Lord by surprising her with roses.

“The girls wanted to honor Blair with the roses and did so without her knowing about it,” Kirschner said. “It brought Blair to tears when we gave her the roses. Blair is such a huge part of our success. Even though her injury cut her season short she still is our emotional leader. She understands the girls and me and is a big help in our success. She will be extremely missed next year. It has been an honor to coach a student athlete like her. She is a player coach on the bench, by giving me what she sees from a player’s perspective and also coaching up her teammates on the bench.”

After defeating Lampasas 58-27 on Jan. 31, the Lady Panthers defeated Gatesville easily with a 66-34 victory. Gatesville came the closest to tying the game in the first quarter when the Panthers were only up 11-7 at the end of the quarter.

Walker made sure the game did not stay close for much longer, as she hit two three pointers from the left wing to put the Panthers up by double digits. Whitten and Kaylie Potts added three pointers of their own and the rest was history as the Lady Panthers cruised to victory.

The Junior Varsity ladies fell to Burnet last week in a very close and heartbreaking, 44-43 loss to the Lady Bulldogs. The Panthers had a chance to take the lead at the very end of the game with 0:13 seconds left but couldn’t capitalize on their opportunities. The JV team came back strong in their next game against Lampasas and beat the Lady Badgers 52-23.