Lady Panthers fall to Burnet in regional final
By Lance Catchings
Liberty Hill came into the Regional Final riding a seven-game winning streak with several heroic late game comebacks under their belt, but in the regional final the Lady Panthers came up just short, falling 52-36 to rival Burnet.
Liberty Hill defeated Burnet twice earlier this season during district play 57-51 and 45-31. In both contests, Burnet tried to get out on the Lady Panthers only to see them come storming right back.
Head Coach Chris Lange said the difference in the third matchup with Burnet was shooting.
“The difference in the game was shooting percentage,” Lange said. “We did not shoot the ball particularly well. I think both sides had some nerves and that’s why it was a 5-5 game at the end of the first quarter. They banked in a three into the end of the first half to lead by 15 points and that hurt a little bit. We missed four free throws in the first half.”
Down 31-16 at halftime the Lady Panthers did not go into panic mode. This was familiar territory for the team who had trailed in many games this season just to shock their opponent in the second half.
“At halftime I told the girls that we have been here and done this,” Lange said. “We know what it is like to be behind and it would make it even sweeter when we come out and handle our business. They understood the situation and knew what was at stake. Sometimes things don’t work out the way that you hope. We just could not seem to get things rolling in our direction. We had a little push during the fourth quarter, but it was just too little, too late.”
Burnet built a 41-21 lead by the end of the third quarter and the Lady Panthers realized they were running short on time. When the final buzzer sounded Burnet had won the game against Liberty Hill, something they had not done since 2013. Familiarity with playing style and game plan is something that comes into play with district rivals.
“The familiarity with our style of play most definitely hurt,” he said. “The more you know someone the more you are prepared for them. When we started jumping them, they were not surprised and there is some advantage in knowing what you are about to see. We had those same advantages. We held their shooting guard (Emma) Lewis in check the first game and she hit four three pointers against us on Saturday. Their point guard (Paris) Brinkley had 13 free throws in the game and gets 21 in the first half of the final, that hurts. We knew what to do we just did not do a very good job. We tried to stick with a similar game plan from our previous games, but when things aren’t going your way early on you are left trying to adapt. We tried to figure out some other stuff and it was just an off night.”
The Lady Panthers ended the season with a 22-18 record, a district championship and one win short of a state tournament berth.
“After the game I told the girls how proud I was of them as a unit,” he said. “I talked about the senior leadership and how they established and kept our tradition and legacy going. They never gave up and continued working hard even though people counted us out. It allowed our younger players to see how it is done and it maintained the culture we have tried to establish here. I talked to each girl individually in front of everyone and talked about all the big moments we’ve had with different people stepping up at different times. You just can’t win them all sometimes. We went one game further than we did last year and we had a great season even with the 18 losses. You still won over 20 games, district champions and finish one game away from state. There are teams out there that never get this far so I am very proud of the girls.”
Ireland Sargent, Gracie Whitten, Carissa Garza, Breon Robinson and Carissa Vickers are the five seniors that will graduate from the program this year. These five led a team that returned no starters to the regional final in a season where most didn’t have Liberty Hill anywhere on their basketball radar.
“To this senior group I feel grateful to them for all of their hard work over the years,” he said. “They understood that playing time is not given it is earned. The willingness to sacrifice for the team and do what I ask no matter what. We could not have done this without all five of them. They will hold a special place in my heart. They stood by me and that means a lot and shows a lot about their character.”
Lange will return players who gained valuable on court experience this season like Jessica Holliday, Emma Hubbard, Ashley Nelson, Kailey Berzin, Brooke Wright and Baylee Laird. As the seniors move out and players get shuffled the future of Liberty Hill basketball looks bright.
“Expectations will not change moving forward,” he said. “We are expected to go out and win district again, which we have done for eight years in a row. We plan on making a deep run in the playoffs next year. I think we are setup for the future very well. We got a lot of young kids playing time this year and they are hungry. They understand what it takes and the ones that are left will show the new ones we add to it. We will strive to be the best we can and winning state is the ultimate goal. I am proud of our kids and the season they turned in. They make it fun and worth coming to work every day.”
Liberty Hill moved back to region IV this season and showed their Panther pride. 2020 should be another fun year for the Lady Panthers.