Lady Panthers’ historic season ends in state semifinals
By Taylor Grafft
SAN ANTONIO — If Liberty Hill was going to win its state semifinal round matchup against Abilene Wylie they needed to stick to the two keys that got them to their first final four appearance since 2012—shooting well from three, and limiting their opponents’ best player.
Last Friday in the Alamodome, the Lady Panthers couldn’t consistently do either and fell to Wylie 53-42, ending their historic season with a 37-3 overall record.
Wylie junior Brittney Brewer was too much for the undersized Liberty Hill to contain in the paint.
Brewer, a 6-foot-4 center, harassed the Lady Panthers on both ends of the court. Liberty Hill tried to contain her with double teams and solid post defense, but Brewer was four inches taller than the Lady Panthers’ two tallest players, 6-foot Allee Nix and Bridgett House.
Brewer ended the game with 18 points and eight rebounds. She also disrupted Liberty Hill’s inside game by blocking six shots.
“Early in the game (Brewer) did a good job of altering some of our shots,” Coach Matt Kirschner said. “It took us a while to get comfortable from the floor into the second half. (Wylie) really played the passing lanes and extended out, making it so we couldn’t get passes to our shooters.”
No other player from Wylie scored more than eight points, while the same held true for Liberty Hill. Senior Ashlee Walker scored 20 points, but the Lady Panthers’ next leading scorer was senior Baylie Bevers with eight.
“Brittney (Brewer) did a great job,” Wylie coach Kurt Richardson said.
“Obviously, we know every team is going to focus on her, but we still have to do our part by getting it in there. If (teams) start collapsing on her and trying to take her away, we’ve got shooters on the outside that we can kick it out to and take advantage of.”
In previous rounds of this year’s postseason, Liberty Hill had always been able to overcome a slow start when the shots weren’t falling in the first half — usually by getting to the foul line late or by getting hot from behind the arc. And on defense they were consistent in getting their opponent’s best player to foul out of the game.
It just wasn’t meant to be in San Antonio as Kirschner’s team only scored 10 points and shot 3-for-21 in the first half.
The Lady Panthers’ best scorers, seniors Shelby Whitten and Walker struggled to find their rhythm in the first two quarters. The two guards combined to go 1-for-8 from the field.
Liberty Hill’s other three starters and bench players struggled as well. Bevers was the Lady Panthers’ top scorer at the break with four points, two of which came from the foul line.
Wylie used a 3-2 zone, the defense a majority of the Lady Panthers’ previous opponents played in earlier rounds of the playoffs.
Before, Liberty Hill had always been able to break the zone down by moving the ball quickly around the perimeter, or through their inside-out game. But because of Wylie’s size and athleticism, Liberty Hill wasn’t able to get their shooters space.
Liberty Hill still got their shots; in fact they outshot Wylie 51-to-37 in total field goal attempts. But for some reason the Lady Panthers just couldn’t remove the lid from the basket, especially from three. Liberty Hill shot 4-for-21 from behind the arc in the game, which is well below their average. Whitten, who is normally just as lethal from three as Walker, went 0-for-6 in the game.
The Lady Panthers didn’t go out of the state tournament without a fight. Kirschner’s team came out in the second half with a sense of urgency and slowly the Liberty Hill supporters started to see flashes of the team they had become accustom to seeing.
“The girls came out with a lot more energy and started forcing some turnovers,” Kirschner said. “Which is our philosophy, full-court pressure. We tried to turn the other team over and get points in transition.”
Walker led the way in the comeback attempt, after not scoring a single point in the first half. The senior ended the game with 20 points and five steals, with four steals in the second half.
The rest of the team started to rally around Walker in the fourth by forcing turnovers through the press and scoring buckets in transition.
“We’re a team that’s never going to give up,” Walker said. “We came out with our hearts and we play with our hearts all the time. I think that’s what happened in the second half, we picked up the intensity and played with our hearts.”
With 5:55 remaining in the fourth quarter Walker started that run by hitting a three-pointer. Twenty seconds later she forced a steal in transition and finished with a fast break layup.
Then with 5:17 left in the fourth, Walker drew a foul and made both of her free throws to cut the Wylie lead to just five points, 42-37.
In the final five minutes Liberty Hill gave it everything they had, but it just wasn’t enough. Wylie closed the game out and turned that five-point margin into an 11-point victory.
“I thought we did a great job of when they’d make a run, we’d answer with a run,” Richardson said. “Great teams are going to make runs on you, but you just have to answer by keeping your head and going about your business and execute.”