Panthers’ injury-plagued season ends in area playoff
By LAUREN JETTE
SCHULENBURG — The basketball season didn’t exactly turn out how the Panthers would have liked, but with untimely injuries to three of their top players, Liberty Hill fared better than most expected.
The Panthers’ season ended with a 58-48 loss to Brazosport in the area round of playoffs Friday night.
Liberty Hill was able to keep up with the Exporters for the first half of an intense and physical game, but couldn’t overcome a poor start to the second half.
“I thought the first half, we played about as good as we could play,” said head coach Barry Boren. “The second half, it started in a bad way. We had possession and turned it over and they got a three-point play and then from there we were kind of fighting from behind.”
The Panthers got on the scoreboard first with a free throw from Slater Foust after both teams went scoreless for the first three minutes of the quarter.
Brazosport tied the game with a free throw at the 4:21 mark, and then took the 3-1 lead on another pair of free throws.
Boren called a timeout with three minutes left after another free throw put the Exporters up 4-1.
Coming out of the timeout, Brady Lochte made a layup to cut the lead down to one point, but a Brazosport steal and basket put the Exporters up 6-3.
Carson Lowe tied the game with a three-pointer, but Brazosport answered with a three of its own. Liberty Hill answered with another three from Carson to tie the score at 9 points.
Conner Lowe was fouled on the shot attempt and his two free throws gave the Panthers a 11-9 lead, which was tied with a basket from Brazosport to end the quarter.
To start the second quarter, Aedan Welch hit two free throws to give the lead back to the Panthers, but a three-pointer gave the lead back to the Exporters.
A free throw from Trey Jenkins tied the game back up at 14 points before Brazosport took the lead back with two free throws.
Welch hit a three-pointer to take back the lead, while Jenkins made a block on the other end of the court, but the Panthers turned the ball over and gave the Exporters the lead back with a basket.
Carson Lowe hit another three, followed by a three from Conner Lowe to take a four-point lead with 3:20 left.
Both teams went back and forth the rest of the half, but the Panthers held a one-point lead heading into the break.
Coming out of the break, the Exporters got the three-point play followed by a basket to take the lead that Liberty Hill never took back.
“On paper, they probably should have beaten us,” Boren said after the loss.
“They had everybody back from the team last year, plus a 6”7’ sophomore post and their kids have played 30-plus games with that lineup. We can’t say that.”
The Panthers started the season losing Conner Lowe to a knee injury, and then lost post Zach Lord to a foot injury suffered during a game against Lorena on Dec. 15.
Returning all-district post Welch then went down with a broken wrist during practice the week before the Jan. 22 game at Burnet.
“Zach (Lord) played today, but he hasn’t played since Dec. 15. Aedan (Welch), this was his second game in a month and those are the guys we were trying to get the ball to,” Boren said.
Even with all the injuries, the Panthers still managed a 24-11 record overall and finished in third place in district to advance to the playoffs, where they improved on last season’s result with a 37-31 bi-district win over La Vernia on Feb. 22.
“I can’t say enough about our guys’ effort. Hey, we gave it our best shot and came up a little short,” Boren said.
“I told them, it doesn’t mean they are better than you, tougher than you or better basketball players than you, but tonight they outscored you, so that’s just how it is.”
After losing only one senior from the previous season, the Panthers will say goodbye to nine seniors this year: Carson Lowe, Conner Lowe, Tucker McMullan, Brady Lochte, Slater Foust, Trey Jenkins and Aedan Welch.
“It’s an end to a really good era. We had a lot of seniors play on varsity multiple years, we’re going to miss those guys,” Boren said.
“I told them, ‘I’m going to miss your toughness, I’m going to miss your leadership and most of all, I’m going to miss your love of basketball,’ because they truly love it.”