Lady Panthers make history at State Tournament

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The Lady Panthers hoist up their runner-up trophy after Saturday’s loss to Argyle. No Liberty Hill girls basketball team had ever made it to the State Championship prior to this season. (Alex Rubio Photo)

The Lady Panthers hoist up their runner-up trophy after Saturday’s loss to Argyle. No Liberty Hill girls basketball team had ever made it to the State Championship prior to this season. (Alex Rubio Photo)

By Paul Livengood

SAN ANTONIO—Liberty Hill made program history qualifying for their first ever state championship game.

“It’s amazing,” said senior Andrea House of the accomplishment. “The last two years that we have been to state have been devastating coming and losing, but this year, it feels awesome. I’m still shaking. I can’t put words to it.”

It took everyone’s hard work and dedication all season long to get over that hump that’s been keeping Liberty Hill down and finally qualify for the state championship game. Even the players in practice that might not get as much recognition—but prepare the players that do play before every game—like Makinley Browder, who was recognized by attending the post-game press conference after the semi-final win.

“It makes me feel so good because I feel like I contributed,” Browder said. “I try and do everything in my power to prepare them for each and
every game. This one was really important, and we worked all week really, really hard on this defense and offense. Seeing it all come together and work is amazing.”

When the clock hit 0:00 against Godley in the state semi-final last Friday, an exuberant glow had set in on the faces of the Lady Panthers.

“I didn’t know what to think,” Browder said. “I was so excited and I was shaking because on the bench, I was so stressed out. We were all just sitting there praying the whole time and it was the craziest feeling ever.”

The Lady Panthers would need their prayers answered again the following day.

Argyle, the team who kicked the Lady Panthers out of the state semi-finals in 2016 and in the 2017 Jack Frost Tournament, stood in their way. Liberty Hill fell to Argyle again, 40-30. With the win, Argyle has won three straight 4A state championships.

“Our girls played hard,” Head Coach Chris Lange said. “We struggled in some areas to get shots to fall. The movement on offense, that falls back on me. It’s also credit to what they did on defense. Argyle played a great job on defense. They had the same game plan. The luxury of having those size kids, they are able to sit back and just do what they do. They haven’t changed a lick. Nothing.”

The shining light and joy on the Lady Panthers’ faces had turned to tears in 24 hours. Kandyn Faurie, the team’s leading scorer, spoke about the loss.

“After the state championship, I felt a state of shock and just disappointment,” Faurie said. “I knew that we had an amazing year and that we made history that no girls basketball team in Liberty Hill has ever done. But it was still very hard for me, being that was the third year and every time I’ve been, we have lost.”

Liberty Hill trailed in the fourth quarter by as much as seven, after Argyle’s Gabby Standifer banked in a prayer three-pointer from the left wing. Standifer hit four out of nine three point attempts on the night.

However, the Lady Panthers are all too familiar with making magic happen late in games. A turnaround jumper from the hands of junior center Sedona Prince narrowed the Eagles’ lead to 33-30 with 1:33 left in the game.

Argyle used a timeout, and drew a foul out of the timeout, which put the Eagles in the bonus. Sophie Betzhold scored one of two free throws in the one-and-one free throw trip, putting Argyle up 34-30 with under a minute to go.

Liberty Hill did not make any baskets for the rest of the game, and with each missed shot, an Argyle rebound followed. The Lady Panthers kept fouling intentionally with the hopes that the Eagles would miss their free throws.

Liberty Hill sent Argyle’s best player, Vivian Gray, to the charity stripe. Gray was 0-5 at the free throw line up to that point in the game. Gray made both free throws and extended the Lady Panthers’ deficit to six, and would eventually make the final two free throws of the game. Gray finished the game with 14 points, 15 rebounds, and the MVP honors for the game.

Prince racked up 10 points, 13 rebounds, two steals and two blocks. Bethany McLeod added seven more points in the near comeback, scoring four of her seven in the fourth quarter.

Liberty Hill defeated Godley 49-45 in the UIL state tournament semi-final on Friday.

For the third straight game, the Lady Panthers had to make a late game push to secure the win. Liberty Hill trailed Godley 45-38 with 2:11 left in the fourth quarter. Godley senior guard Haley Robertson hit back-to-back three pointers on the previous possessions, and Liberty Hill’s odds of winning didn’t look so probable. Robertson hit four out of five threes on the night, scoring a team-high 14 points.

Faurie took control of the final two minutes. Faurie drained a wide open three-pointer from the top of the key, hit a baseline layup on the following possession, and then recorded back-to-back steals in the full court press that produced two Prince free throws. Liberty Hill swung the tide in 60 seconds and tied the game at 45-45.

Prince led all scorers Friday with 17 points, and added 16 rebounds as well against Godley.

Faurie scored an and-one layup out of a timeout, but missed the free throw. Liberty Hill led with under a minute to go—the first lead since the score was 24-23 in the third quarter. Faurie finished with 16 points, five rebounds, and five steals.

Bethany McLeod issued the dagger with her two made free throws in a one-and-one situation, extended the Lady Panthers lead to 49-45, and more importantly, forced a two-possession game with 20 seconds left.

Godley gave Liberty Hill everything it had: out-rebounded Liberty Hill 38 to 33, made a better percentage from the field (37.2 percent versus 34.5 percent), and made more threes (eight for Godley and five for Liberty Hill). But the fight and will to win gave the Lady Panthers the edge.

Liberty Hill finished the season 36-3, and while they did not win state, making it to the big game was a step up for the program.

“It’s awesome,” Lange said of the effect on making it to the state final. “To have these kids get to experience something like this, and knowing how hard they worked, all you can do is hold your head high and be very proud of your team. I am. I’m super proud of them. It just wasn’t meant to be.”

The team is junior heavy, so a return to the state tournament in 2018 will certainly be a tangible goal. As for this season, the Liberty Hill Lady Panthers will have to settle for second place. Faurie, a member of that strong junior class, isn’t taking no for an answer in 2018.

“I refuse to lose here again,” Faurie said. “It’s bittersweet because we made a great run and did great things, but didn’t get what we wanted in the end.”

Paul@LHIndependent.com

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