Lady Panthers open district play with wins over Burnet, Lampasas

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By Lance Catchings

The Liberty Hill girls’ basketball team has faced some challenges this season but when it was time to dial in for District 27-4A play, the Lady Panthers were ready.

Last Friday night, Liberty Hill (9-15, 2-0) took a 57-51 win over Burnet (19-6, 1-1) to open district play, followed by a 64-56 win over Lampasas (22-4, 1-1) on the road Tuesday night. Although the Lady Panthers’ pre-district record may not have been as nice as their district opponents’, Head Coach Chris Lange told his team that none of that mattered once district play began.

“I am super excited and super proud of my girls for how they opened district play,” Lange said. “I told them they have taken a lot of butt whippings up to this point, but every one of them was for a reason. I am proud of every single player we have, because every single one has done their job. We have run what I wanted to run offensively and defensively for the most part. It is about overcoming mistakes and sticking to the game plan, and it felt good to get those wins. The girls are excited about it. Burnet is a great team and had a great season up to this point and so has Lampasas.”

Friday night against Burnet in a packed gymnasium on both sides, each team was eager to get the game underway. Burnet was looking forward to the opportunity to defeat a rival in their home gymnasium, and the Lady Panthers were ready to surprise their opponent and crowd with their fearless play.

“It took a ton of pride for our girls to play they way they did against Burnet,” Lange said. “In our locker room, we have a lot of sayings on the walls from many great individuals. I walked them through prior to the game and had them read each one. I walked them out and showed them our brag board on the side of the court. I told them that not one of these accomplishments was easy. Every single district championship and state runner-up appearance was filled with a ton of work. We have the girls to do it, we just have to get out and do it. I think they took it to heart and they showed up and played.”

Liberty Hill took an early 16-8 first quarter lead over Burnet behind the shooting of Carissa Garza and Gracie Whitten. Garza rattled off a flurry of eight points in the form of two three pointers and a layup that sparked her team. Burnet battled back in the second quarter to cut the lead to 21-19 at halftime for Liberty Hill. At the end of the third quarter, Liberty Hill pushed their lead to 12 points, 42-30, but Burnet refused to give up hope.

Burnet continued to pressure in the fourth quarter, but Liberty Hill maintained and answered. Garza hit another timely three pointer in the third quarter. Emma Hubbard had 10 points and Carissa Vickers added nine points in a strong effort.

“We are starting to find out roles, and that is a good thing for us,” Lange said. “Garza crashes in to get a put-back rebound. Baylee Laird hits a pressure three pointer right after to help extend the lead when Burnet is trying to make a run. Brooke Wright comes in and makes some key rebounds for us. Ashley Jordan comes in and plays almost seven minutes in one stint because of foul trouble by Emma Hubbard and Ashley Nelson. She didn’t score, but defensively, she did her job and held it down for us. That won’t show up in the stat sheet, but it was big for our team.”

Sophomore Baylee Laird, who had five points in the win, said she was extremely proud of her teammates for what they accomplished.

“Going into the game, we watched their film and we knew what was coming,” Laird said. “We were not stressed about them, because we knew what we could do if we came together as a team. We talked during pre-game about how much this game really meant to us. For the past seven years we have won, and it has been an important game to our program. I am so proud of my team for this win. We love each other, and we are a great family. Knowing that we went into the locker room loving each other, I think this is the start of something big.”

Burnet converted 23 of 29 free throws in the game, but Lange said despite that, what he liked was the defensive effort his team showed.

“Defensively, I felt we played excellent,” Lange said. “I ask a lot of the girls when it comes to playing defense. At times, Burnet had their five best players, all three-point shooters, on the court at one time. When that happens, we must stick with straight man, because there were too many shooters. When I first came here a few years ago, we couldn’t play man, it was horrible. To see the girls step up and play man and them to work on it every day in practice and pay off for them was a great thing.”

Liberty Hill will host Salado Friday night and Eastside Memorial the following Tuesday. Both tipoffs are set for 6:15 p.m.

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