Lady Panthers oust Canyon Lake in bi-district round
By Lance Catchings
DRIPPING SPRINGS — The Liberty Hill girls’ basketball team (19-17) went into their bi-district playoff match against Canyon Lake focused on taking the 2019 playoffs one game at a time. Their focus paid off with a 48-32 victory on a night where the Lady Panthers struggled to get shots to fall. Head Coach Chris Lange said his team knew what Canyon Lake wanted to do, defensively, but they still needed to execute.
“We knew Canyon Lake ran a 2-3, where they usually try to trap at the top,” Lange said. “They didn’t trap as hard as I thought they would against us, but maybe it was because of our ball handlers they backed off. The idea was to move the ball around and take open shots.”
It was a back-and-forth first quarter for both teams as they tried to get a feel for each other on the court. Liberty Hill got four points from senior Breon Robinson, both buckets coming on fast break points, but trailed 9-8 at the end of the first quarter. Robinson added another four points in the second quarter, along with Emma Hubbard and Kailey Berzin, who both went 2-2 at the free throw line to extend the lead to 20-13 at halftime.
“We struggled shooting the ball in the first half bad,” Lange said. “The second half wasn’t too much better, but we hit a couple that kept us going. Really, tonight it was our defense that kept us going and in the game. We put up a lot of pressure and caused a lot of turnovers. We got out-rebounded in the first quarter, which was not pretty, but it was a good win.”
Free throws were an area the team has focused on, and it became a key part of the win against Canyon Lake.
“In the first quarter, we were 2-4, but in the second quarter we went 6-6 at the free-throw line, which helped build that lead up for us,” Lange said. “We had a seven-point lead at halftime, so that helped us. Overall, free throw wise, I felt we shot pretty good.”
At halftime, Lange simply told his team to keep doing what they were doing.
“I told the girls at half, ‘Our shots aren’t falling, but the defense is working,’” he said. “We were controlling the boards, but we needed to do a better job of trying to get the open looks. If the shots aren’t falling, they aren’t falling, but we can still play defense and rebound the basketball.”
In the third quarter, both teams traded buckets until Liberty Hill held a 25-21 lead. Junior Brooke Wright then subbed into the game and led with her defensive effort and energy. Wright stole the ball and knocked down a high layup to draw a foul and hit the free throw. Canyon Lake then answered with a three-pointer, and Wright responded with a three-pointer of her own. She then drove the lane to convert another difficult layup and drew yet another foul. After she capped the three-point play by hitting the free throw, Liberty Hill had built a 34-24 lead heading into the fourth quarter.
“We came into the game knowing we were picked to win, but we still needed to come in strong and play tight defense and chase them down,” Wright said. “We have a strong bench, so we had a lot of players sub in so we could go out and get them, defensively. Our shots weren’t really falling tonight, but we just had to go find other ways to score.”
Wright said her offensive production is due to her hard work at practice.
“You have to take practice seriously,” she said. “We have certain drills where you have to learn to find certain cuts, and that has helped my game. The better you learn the defense, the easier it is to find a way to work through the other team. Whenever I get in the game, I just want to help my team out and do my part. It really isn’t about scoring for me. I just want to help my team, play my role and do my part.”
In big games, the Lady Panthers have had various players step up all season. Lange said that Tuesday night, it was simply Wright’s turn.
“It has been that way for us for a while, where we just have different players step up,” he said. “Holliday comes in and hits a three, and then Brooke (Wright) gets nine points in a matter of a few minutes. Someone had to step up, and tonight was her night to step up and do it. We got some good contributions from some of our young kids that we just pulled up and put them out there. They had good energy and helped us wake up.”
Liberty Hill found its groove after that as Ashley Nelson, Gracie Whitten and Morgan Jackson all got in on the scoring. The Lady Panthers outscored Canyon Lake 14-8 in the fourth quarter, and at the two-minute mark, Liberty Hill went into their keep-away, ball-control offense as time expired.
Robinson led the team with 11 points, followed by Wright with nine and Jessica Holliday with five. Berzin and Gracie Whitten had four points each. Jackson had three points on the night and Ireland Sargent, Bailey Laird, Hubbard and Avery Harrell each had two.
Liberty Hill will face Navasota at Rockdale High School on Friday at 6:30 p.m.