Lady Panthers open season with 5-2 record

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By Lance Catchings

The Liberty Hill girls’ basketball team has gotten off to a solid start to the 2018 season. Following a tournament at Austin Bowie, the Lady Panthers sit at 5-2 with all their games being played on the road so far.

The Lady Panthers competed at the Austin Bowie Be-YOU-tiful Classic Tournament Nov. 8-10. Liberty Hill finished in third place due to point differential, despite going 4-1 through five games played.
The Lady Panthers opened the tournament Thursday with a 54-50 win over 6A Austin Akins. Point leaders were Gracie Whitten with 13 and Carissa Vickers with six.

“We had a really slow first quarter,” Head Coach Chris Lange said. “We turned the ball over 13 times in the first quarter alone that game. We were down early and climbed back into it and got the win at the end. We had contributions from a lot of our players.”

The team then won a tight 57-53 game over 6A Temple and followed with a 73-14 thrashing of 5A Austin Travis.

“We have a little bit of history with Temple,” Lange said. “We’ve played them the past couple years, and they moved up to 6A this year. We played well in the first two quarters, and in the third quarter, we built a 19-point lead and let it slip away in the fourth quarter. We had some trouble with turnovers and at times let them back in the game. We jumped all over Austin Travis Friday. All but one person scored in that game. We had a lot of players scoring, which was a good thing for us. That win put us at 3-0, and after that, they put us in a bracket separated by point differential. Even though we were 3-0, we ended up in second place in that bracket.”

Their lone loss of the tournament was to 6A San Antonio Johnson by a score of 54-41, and Liberty Hill closed out the tourney with a 55-41 win over 6A Round Rock McNeil.

“We had a lot of players scoring, but we had a few turnovers here and there,” Lange said. “Johnson was very talented and had a couple players that could really knock down the outside shot. I thought it was a good back and forth game, and we stayed close the whole time. We were down by almost 19 at one point and then cut back down to nine, and we had some opportunities. The effort was there from the girls, and I was proud of how they battled through that situation. We defeated McNeil, and it was a good game. It was a competitive, fun game on both sounds.”

The team opened the season with a 62-53 win over Leander Glenn on Nov. 2, followed by a 42-17 loss to Belton, a 6A school, on Nov. 6. Lange said both games were great learning experiences for a young team trying to find the best combination of players to put on the court. Liberty Hill has zero returning starter on the roster and only four players with significant playing experience returning this season.

Point leaders for the win over Leander Glenn were Breon Robinson with 18, Whitten with 14 and Carissa Garza with 11.

“We got contributions from a lot of different people, and our scoring was spread out well,” Lange said. “We had some highs and lows after we jumped out on them early. We gave up the lead and had to fight at the end to hang on to it. It was a good game and nice to see the girls battle back after giving up a 20-point lead. They still found a way to win, which was nice to see.”

The Lady Panthers picked up their first loss of the season against 6A Belton, who list five girls at six-foot or taller on their roster.

“Despite the loss, we did not play horribly, but we did shoot the ball horribly,” Lange said. “We watched film, and the number of missed wide-open shots and layups from the field really hurt us. We turned the ball over a little too much, but defensively, it wasn’t too bad. They scored 42, but I thought after the first quarter, we settled down on defense and maintained. We were not knocking down shots, and if you’re not hitting, you’re going to get beat.”

Lange said his team is finding its identity, and in the beginning of the year, it is not uncommon for that to take a little time with new players.

“We are finding our identity slowly,” he said. “We used this tournament to start a lot of different groups, because we are still trying to find our starters. We are learning how to play with each other. It’s tough when you only have four returners and must learn how to mix in another 10 girls with that group. It’s a challenge, and the players and coaches are doing a good job trying to figure it out.”

Lange, who prides himself and his team on defense, said he was mostly pleased with what he has seen through the first seven games of the season.

“Defensively, we have created some turnovers, which is a good thing,” he said. “Our press still needs some work, but in the half-court defense, we did well. I felt even in the loss to Belton, the adjustments we made and how they responded to their size was big. We are playing fairly well team defense; we just have to cut down on the lapses.”

Tuesday, the Lady Panthers traveled to Killeen to take on 6A Ellison. They will then host Vista Ridge, China Spring and Lago Vista before traveling to the Jack Frost Tournament the last weekend of the month. The remainder of November will be a grind, but the team will find out a lot about itself during this stretch.

“We have a tough game against 6A Killeen Ellison Tuesday night at their place,” Lange said. “They have a lot of talent this year, so it will be a challenging game that we can grow from. I am very proud of how the girls are playing, and I always knew we could do it. We will hit a tough stretch here in scheduling, but it will get us ready for the district play, and that is what we are worried about more than anything else.”

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