Lady Panthers bounce back from historic loss

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By Lance Catchings

On Tuesday night, Liberty Hill edged out Salado in a come-from-behind win after being down at the half 25-15.

Liberty Hill trailed the first three quarters, then outscored Salado 18-11 in the fourth quarter to take the 45-42 win. The Lady Panthers are now 7-1 in district 27-4A and have all but wrapped up the district championship with two games to play.

On Jan. 25, the girls’ team lost its first district game in four years to Lampasas by a final score of 55-46. The Lady Panthers opened the game, business as usual, building a 13-6 lead after the first quarter and a 27-18 lead at halftime. Head Coach Chris Lange said at halftime, things seemed to be going according to plan.

“We ran some offensive sets that we specifically put in for this,” Lange said. “We ran them and executed them, got points off them and looked good in the first half for the most part. At home, we seem to get in some foul trouble with our post players early. When you take out your starting post with two fouls with less than a minute to go, that hurts. It is painful when you have those situations, but as a team, you must handle it. We adjusted alright, and at the end of the first half, we had a nine-point lead. It was a tale of two halves for sure. We did the same thing up there in Lampasas. We were up by nine, we came out and did not execute and gave up some backside assignments and lost some girls. Their coach made some better adjustments than I did, and that is on me. I must find a better way to help us out a bit.”

In the first half, the Lady Panthers got strong play from Ashley Nelson, who had nine points in the loss and senior point guard Gracie Whitten.

“Leading into the half, I thought we had played hard and smart,” Lange said. “Defensively, we made them make some tough passes and we got some turnovers. There were a lot of things that were going well, but we didn’t come out and execute well in the second half. That is on me. It was completely two different halves. I thought the fouls really went against us in the second half. I thought not the number of calls, but the type of calls, which can be frustrating.”

Lampasas fought back in the third quarter and outscored Liberty Hill 20-8 to take a 38-35 lead. The fourth quarter was a back-and-forth contest as Liberty Hill pressured to try to cut into the lead, but Lampasas did just enough to keep them at bay.

“It wasn’t anything they were specifically doing that caught us off guard,” Lange said. “They have a 6’2” post that is just bigger than everyone on our team. They have another 5’11” girl who is also larger than everyone on our team. We got beat up down there a little bit. We did not double down fast enough, and we didn’t finish. We tried to attack them on our end, and we thought a few would go our way, and they didn’t. We either got a layup or we got no call. We tried to attack and get them in foul trouble to get them out of the game, but it did not work.”

Liberty Hill struggled from the free throw line all night, and Lange said that was the difference.

“Free throws for us tonight were horrible,” he said. “We shot 31 free throws and made 14, and that was the difference in the ballgame. We must hit free throws, and that is unacceptable. We shot the ball a lot, and we did not make them. Lampasas shot 25 and made 15. It’s a painful loss, and for us, it’s a new feeling for us.”

After the game, Lange told his players the loss was on his shoulders, not on them, because they played with great effort.

“After the game, I told the girls it was on me,” he said. “We missed some free throws, and that was the difference in the ball game. Our shots weren’t falling. It was the same thing at Burnet, but we hit our free throws. Tonight, it bit us. When we were losing that nine-point lead, maybe I should have called a timeout, but hindsight is 20/20. I typically don’t, because I want the girls to be able to handle it and work through it. That is the maturity and goal all along. We cut it back down to five and we missed some free throws, which could have cut it to three and changed the ballgame again. Even being down by 10 with three minutes left, I never thought we were going to lose.”

Friday night was senior night, and Lange reiterated to his five seniors how proud he is and important they have been to his program.

“I am still very proud of our girls,” he said. “This group of seniors has done everything I have ever asked of them. They work hard every day and have helped these young players understand that we don’t give up, but keep pushing. They are leaving a good legacy in a tough year. It has been a little bit of a rebuilding year, and they have done everything we ask. It is a growing process. Losing games is not the end of the world. It is about learning how to handle a loss, as well. I don’t like losing, but I am still very proud of the girls.”

The Lady Panthers have not known defeat in district play in recent years, but Lange said it was no time to hang their heads.

“We can’t hold our head down,” he said. “If we don’t lift our head up and get ready to play, we will get beat at Salado on Tuesday. The season is not over, and it is not the end of the world. We are in the playoffs already, and we know that. It is now just a matter of where we finish. We have played with fire all year and against Lampasas, we got burnt. We have to turn around and get right back to it, because our season is not over.”

The Lady Panthers are now 7-1 in district 27-4A with two games to play. The team will travel to Austin Friday and face Eastside Memorial. Tuesday, they host Taylor in their last district game of the season. Tipoff for both games is set for 6:15 p.m.

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