Lady Panthers hold down Eagles

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By BOB VARMETTE

Sometimes, it seems the basket has a lid on it.

Then there are the times it seems like it has an invisible hand that rejects shots halfway through the hoop.

It was not the best shooting night for the Liberty Hill Lady Panthers. Still, the Lady Panthers cruised past the Salado Lady Eagles 65-30 Friday night in District 25-4A girls basketball at Liberty Hill High School’s gym.

Because of defense.

“It’s because of the chemistry we have – me, Shelby (Whitten) and Ashlee (Walker) have a chemistry that’s unlike any other team,” Liberty Hill senior guard Baylie Bevers said. “If you think you can get it through us, you’re wrong. That’s just how it is.”

And that’s the way it is.

Walker led the Lady Panthers (25-2, 3-0 District 25-4A) with 22 points against the Lady Eagles (1-11, 0-2), including five 3s. Abbi Shelton added seven points and Chelsea Cole had six points.

Bevers had four points and Whitten had five points for Liberty Hill. Their biggest contributions came as part of a suffocating Lady Panthers’ defense that, in addition to holding the Lady Eagles to just 30 points, also forced 31 turnovers and allowed just one Salado player to reach double figures – Taylor Atwood with 14 points, 13 in the second half after the game was beyond reach.

“I think our defense is a huge part of our game, especially when we press and keep the game at a fast pace,” Whitten said. “We’re very focused and we’re very into it. … It’s just working together as a team and getting deflections and passing it up the court – it’s a really big part of our game.”

While the offense contended with the invisible hand, the defense had no issues. Liberty Hill got out to a 13-0 lead and Salado didn’t pick up its first bucket until there was 1 minute, 55 seconds in the first quarter.

The Lady Eagles scored the last four points of the quarter and trailed 13-4 heading into the second quarter. Then the Lady Panthers went on another 13-0 run, keyed by Walker, who was having no trouble getting the ball to go down on her 3s.

Walker hit four 3s in the second quarter and finished the first half with 15 points. Salado, meanwhile, was often just trying to make it successfully across the time line – the Lady Eagles turned the ball over 20 times in the first half against the Lady Panthers’ press.

“The defense – that’s what the system is built on,” Liberty Hill coach Mike Kirschner said. “We press in practice every day. We go over it – even today during our athletic period, we were in the press. We’re always looking at angles. We’re always looking at moving as a unit.”

The Lady Panthers led 29-10 at the break and they slowly pulled away from the Lady Eagles in the third quarter, even though the basket continued rejecting Liberty Hill shots.

It was only finally in the fourth quarter that the basket quit coughing up Liberty Hill shots. The Lady Panthers had their best scoring quarter of the game, tallying 20 points, and they got nearly every player involved – eight of the 13 Liberty Hill players scored in the fourth quarter.

“That’s the scary part – if we’re hitting, we’re going to score a whole lot more points,” Kirschner said. “The way we run the offense, the way the girls pass the ball, we’re going to get any shot we want. We just got to get back in the gym and start knocking down shots.”

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