Lady Panthers win area championship, fall short in regional quarterfinal

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Courtney Peterson, Gaby Garcia and Alex Svetlik block a penalty kick that was saved by LHHS goalkeeper Mackenzy Turner. Wimberley, however, was able to score its first goal against LHHS off a penalty kick in the second half. (Shannon Hofmann Photo)

By Paul Livengood

LAKE TRAVIS — Entering Tuesday’s showdown with the Lady Texans of Wimberley, the Lady Panthers’ confidence was high.

“I believe we can do it,” senior Alex Svetlik said about beating Wimberley prior to Tuesday’s match. “We just have to play our game, play sharp and just keep our heads up.”

The Lady Panthers and Lady Texans were familiar with each other, as they played each other twice in the regular season over the years. However, this third-round Class 4A soccer matchup marked the first playoff meeting between the two schools.

Liberty Hill held their own for 63 minutes, then Wimberley broke through. Wimberley senior Taylor Blass broke the deadlock with a goal that bounced off Mackenzy Turner’s outstretched hand.

The Lady Panthers fired right back and scored one of their own with 10 minutes remaining, but were called offside and the goal was disallowed.

Minutes before the final buzzer, Lady Texan senior midfielder Emma Sprague added another goal for a little insurance to give Wimberley the 2-0 victory. Liberty Hill now holds a 1-4 record against Wimberley all-time. The last Lady Panther win over the Texans occurred in the 2014-15 season.

Last Friday night’s match between the Lady Panthers and the Fredericksburg Lady Billies showed that home-field advantage doesn’t always give the host a leg up on the competition.

Fredericksburg, which advanced to the second round via a bye as District 27-4A’s third-place finisher—District 28-4A has no girls’ soccer programs, so every District 27-4A playoff-bound team received a first-round bye— possessed the luxury of hosting Liberty Hill at home despite the Lady Billies’ inferior record.

The home-field advantage didn’t help whatsoever. The Lady Panthers defeated the Lady Billies 3-0, and left Fredericksburg as Area champs for the second time in program history.

Assistant Coach Timothy Maher, the rest of the coaching staff, and the Lady Panthers wanted to let everyone know they were a force to be reckoned with in their performance against the Lady Billies.

“More motivation (to perform) really,” Maher said of playing at their opponent’s home field in the playoffs. “The girls were looking forward to the chance to make a statement and show everyone that home field doesn’t matter much—that we can come play anybody, anywhere and do what we want to do.”

Four minutes into Friday’s match, Liberty Hill made their statement.

Sophomore left back Haylie Cassady corralled a loose ball around the 20-yard line on the football field, took one touch, and put the Lady Panthers on the board by curling in her shot from more than 30 yards away from the goal. Fredericksburg’s goalie, Rebecca Sechrist, attempted to make a high save, but the ball merely bounced off her hand and into the goal.

Minutes later, high winds became a factor. With overcast skies and wind upwards of 10-15 miles per hour, senior midfielder Alex Svetlik used the conditions to her advantage. Liberty Hill’s corner kick used the wind, which was blowing inwards towards the Lady Billies’ goal, to bend her set piece into the goal from the corner spot, David-Beckham style.

“It’s always cool to score off a corner kick,” Svetlik said. “I’ve done it before a couple years ago, but I think that is like the second or third time that I’ve done it.”

Svetlik had not scored since the Lady Panthers’ 3-2 overtime win against the Salado Lady Eagles—an eight-game scoreless span taking place over a month and a half. Svetlik broke that dry spell by scoring twice against the Lady Billies on Friday.

Liberty Hill was awarded a free kick from a few yards off the top right hand corner of the 18-yard box. Svetlik gave everyone her best David Beckham impression again. The senior bent her shot up and over the Fredericksburg wall, and into the upper left hand corner of the goal.

Fredericksburg only managed to shoot one shot on goal, which Mackenzy Turner saved. Liberty Hill’s 3-0 victory tallied Turner’s shutout count to six.

The Lady Panthers’ season ends with a respectable 15-8 campaign and the program’s first ever district championship. Liberty Hill returns 11 of its 17 players for next season, and will come back seeking its second straight district title.

Paul@LHIndependent.com

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