By TAYLOR GRAFFT
GATESVILLE — The Liberty Hill Runnin’ Panthers basketball team finished the season on Monday night after losing in the bi-district round to an athletic and well-coached Glenn Rose Tigers team in a heartbreaking loss in Gatesville, 47-46.
The Panthers ran into trouble against Glenn Rose when they could not break the Tigers’ zone defense and had to rely on taking outside shots. The Panthers also could not stop the Tigers’ Peyton Lytle from having a career night shooting from behind the three-point line.
The Panthers have struggled this season with slow starts and having to play from behind in games, but usually the Panthers have rallied in every second half they were behind and mount a great comeback and win. Unfortunately, the Panthers weren’t able to take advantage of several opportunities down the stretch to take the lead in the final minutes of the game.
Liberty Hill missed several key free throws and turned the ball over too many times in transition to find the victory on Monday, but still managed to play well enough to have a chance to win the game in the final seconds. The Panthers had one last opportunity with one second remaining, but couldn’t get a shot off in time from an inbound play.
Glenn Rose’s Lytle finished the game with 24 points and the team hit a few buzzer beater shots at the end of the first three quarters. Even when the Panthers were heavily contesting Lytle’s shot, the Tigers’ player somehow managed to find the bottom of the net.
“We have had a penchant for starting slow and then playing from behind,” said Liberty Hill Coach Barry Boren. “Glen Rose did not do anything that was unexpected. We had anticipated having to stop Jeffrey Harris and we did that. We had not seen (Peyton) Lytle do what he did on tape. The bottom line is that he stepped up at crucial times. We certainly had our opportunities even with such a bad start. We just could not make that play to get us over the hump.”
The Glenn Rose team, coached by Wayne Roberts, had a lot of experience and upperclassmen leading the charge for the Tigers. Coach Boren’s Panthers had a freshman, two sophomores, a junior, and only one senior in his starting lineup throughout the season. Yet despite that inexperience and youth, the Panthers managed to hold the Tigers to only five points in the fourth quarter and mounted a comeback that just came up short.
“In the end, you have older more mature players playing against younger ones,” Coach Boren said. “We, the younger ones, just could not overcome all the obstacles. In the end, the answer is not to quit, but to work and get better. We have an offseason to do that. We will begin to go to work towards that end. We will strive to get better.”
Senior Tristan Heidelberg played his final game as a Runnin’ Panther and led Liberty Hill in scoring with 10 points.
“Tristan and Callen Mikulencak have been the ultimate leaders,” said Coach Boren. “I believe we got every ounce of what each of them had physically and emotionally. Tristan’s play will certainly be missed. His calmness and goodness to others will be hard to replace. Callen has a really good idea of how to lead and hopefully we will be able to find someone to replace Tristan in the lineup.”
The Runnin’ Panthers were riding high after finishing the regular season with a 25-8 record and tying Burnet for a share of the District Title, but came up a little short in their final two games of the season.
After finishing tied with Burnet in district, Boren and Burnet Coach Roy Kiser decided to play a district playoff game, rather than rely on a coin flip, to decide who would receive the No.1 seed in the post season.
The Panthers had a similar game against Burnet on Feb. 14 and came up just a little short after mounting a fourth-quarter comeback. The Panthers could not overcome the Bulldog defensive pressure in transition and in the paint.
Despite all those obstacles, the Panthers rallied behind Conner Lowe, Mikulencak, Heidelberg and Aedan Welch to bring them within two points with 0:16 seconds remaining.
After intentionally fouling Burnet with seven seconds left, the Bulldogs hit two clutch free throws to put themselves up 51-47 and seal their No.1 seed for the post season.
The Panthers outscored Burnet in every quarter except one, the first quarter. The Panthers got off to a bad start and found themselves down 16-5 at the end of the first quarter. They used the remaining three quarters to slowly cut into Burnet’s lead, but just didn’t have enough left to stop Burnet from scoring.
Burnet’s Baumgart finished the game with 21 points for the Bulldogs. The Bulldogs’ next leading scorer was Derek Kiser with only eight points.
Conner Lowe led the Panthers with 17 points, while Mikulencak finished with 10 points.