Lady Panthers advance to soccer regional quarterfinals

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By Lance Catchings

MANOR — The Liberty Hill girls’ soccer team (20-2-2) has carried over its trend of high scores and shutting out opponents right into the 2019 playoffs. Last Thursday, Liberty Hill ran past Canyon Lake 10-0 in the bi-district playoff round in Burnet, and Monday night in Manor dispatched La Grange in a 9-0 area round playoff win.

Liberty Hill came out on fire Monday night against La Grange and quickly built a 4-0 lead midway through the first half. Madi Fuller scored with just over four minutes left and Brooke Briscoe ended the first half on a high note when she hit a 20-yard free kick to give Liberty Hill a 6-0 lead at halftime.

“Against La Grange, we were very patient and moved the ball around quickly,” said Head Coach Darren Bauer. “That is something we talked about after the Canyon Lake game. It was great to see us come out and get back to that. La Grange pressured pretty well in the midfield, but we played simple and didn’t really give them a lot of chances to get on the ball.”

In the second half, Fuller scored back-to-back goals on fast breaks and freshman Emma Stephens scored the final goal of the day by splitting the ball past two defenders to put a cap on the playoff victory. Stephens, who recently came back from injury, said she saw an opportunity and tried to make the most of it. She is looking forward to her team advancing to the regional quarterfinals and another opportunity for her team to improve.

“I just saw two defenders in front of me trying to kick the ball out, and I just smashed it in the goal,” Stephens said. “I saw the ball and had a chance, so I just went for it. I think we played well against La Grange. We started off strong, which has been one of our weaknesses. We have started off slow in the past, so to come out and try to get the ball in the net as quick as we can was a good thing for us. We are starting to realize we need to play harder and quicker. Now that we have all our starters back, we feel like we are back in the groove. Going forward, we just need to continue going as hard as we can and starting off as strong as we can. We want to defeat our opponents as fast as we can, so we can drop their confidence from the beginning.”

Last Thursday in the bi-district round, Liberty Hill led 3-0 at halftime against Canyon Lake before rattling off seven goals in a second-half offensive explosion. Bauer was pleased with the second half performance, but not so much the how his team started the game.

“Against Canyon Lake, our second half was pretty good,” he said. “We came out a little sluggish. Maybe we expected to walk through it and get the same results as last year, and they realized that is not how it is going to be. In the second half, we picked it up and looked a lot cleaner.”

Briscoe led the way with three goals and two assists, Fuller had two goals and two assists, and Athena Brown, Kyla Boliek, Katie Wilson and Piper Tabor each scored a goal in the win. Goalie Samantha Carter had three saves on the night. Sophomore Abigail Janicek, who had three assists in the win, said her team found its composure in the second half.

“In the bi-district, I think we had good composure and we played simple passes,” Janicek said. “We didn’t rush or force balls, and that was key for us. Playoffs can be a little nerve racking, because we have not played that many challenging teams. We are getting into it and trying to focus and make sure we have good composure. We want to take it far in playoffs, and we know that starts with playing simple soccer.”

Liberty Hill has earned a trip to the regional quarterfinals and will play Boerne, who beat Bellville Tuesday night. Bauer believes the Panther defense will have to be prepared if they want to advance.

“As we go forward, I think we need to have more composure in the middle to possess the ball,” he said. “In the regional quarterfinals, we will have to work harder on defense and be prepared to take in pressure from a better offense. It has been awhile since we had to deal with that. I think the difference in some of the games we have coming up is how we will deal with pressure on the defensive side.”

Last season, Liberty Hill defeated Boerne in the regional finals 2-1 to advance to the state tournament.

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