Lady Panthers win regional tournament to advance to third straight state qualification
By Paul Livengood
HUNTSVILLE – For the third straight season, the Liberty Hill Lady Panthers are advancing to the UIL state semi-final round of the playoffs.
Liberty Hill tips off against the Godley Lady Wildcats at 3 p.m. on Friday, March 3, at the Alamodome in San Antonio. The winner from the Lady Wildcats-Lady Panthers game will play the victor of the other semi-final between Argyle and Wharton for the 4A state title.
Liberty Hill defeated the Wheatley Lady Wildcats in the regional semifinal 49-44 on Feb. 24 and followed Saturday with a 53-44 regional final win against the Madisonville Lady Mustangs. Neither game showed promise for the Lady Panthers in the first half, however.
One minute and 57 seconds into the game against Madisonville, junior center Sedona Prince, who was eventually named the region tournament MVP, racked up two fouls and was forced to ride the pine for the rest of the first quarter and a large portion of the second due to her foul trouble.
Combine Prince’s absence with eight first quarter points, including an and-one layup, from senior forward Lexi Leveston, and momentum in the opening eight minutes swung the pendulum in the Lady Mustangs’ favor.
Head Coach Chris Lange looked to his team to fight without the 6-foot-7 defensive security blanket behind themselves.
“Handle it,” Lange said. “I tell my daughter all the time, handle it. I tell the girls all the time, handle it. It’s just part of it—you have to handle it. (Sedona) got in foul trouble, and she knows she has to sit. That is when you ask someone to step up that you’ve asked all year long. Lizzie Buck just did a bang up, got tough and got physical which I’ve been asking her to do all year, stood up and handled it. So I was really proud of (Buck). Our bench, when they got in there, they did their minutes—they handled it, so that was good.”
Buck filled in valiantly, diving for loose balls and doing all the little things that help you win games. Lange got that tough gritty play out of Buck that he’d been looking for.
Liberty Hill trailed 15-9 after the first quarter ended, but juniors Kandyn Faurie, Kayse Bevers and Shaylin Vickers kept the Lady Panthers’ alive in the first half. Bevers hit two three-pointers in the first half from the exact same spot in the left corner. Vickers added another three from the opposite corner, scored a layup after crashing the offensive glass on a missed three, and assisted on Faurie’s second quarter 18-foot jumper.
Prince checked back in late in the second quarter, but only contributed one made free throw to the cause in the second quarter.
Madisonville’s only player named to the region all-tournament team, Tra’dayja Smith, senior point guard, imposed her will on Liberty Hill early and often—using her quickness and speed to get in the lane for layups or to set up one of her teammates. Smith scored 14 points in the contest.
Liberty Hill trailed 20-27 at halftime, and by as many as 11 late in the third. What would help the Lady Panthers later was the foul trouble Madisonville put themselves in as a team in the second half. Despite being up double digits, Liberty Hill was already in the bonus in the third quarter. Faurie and Prince both went two-for-two from the line in one-and-one situations at the charity stripe in the final minutes of the third quarter.
Liberty Hill’s deficit entering the fourth quarter was 32-38, and the Lady Panthers wouldn’t be playing catch up much longer.
Prince started the fourth converting both free throws in a one-and-one opportunity after a common foul on the floor—a reason being in the bonus was such an integral part in the Liberty Hill comeback. Liberty Hill forced back-to-back steals, with the latter ending with an Andrea House fast break, and-one layup. The Lady Panthers trailed by one, and Lange knew his team was back in it.
“When we cut it down to two, I knew at that point this is ours for the taking,” Lange said.
With House’s layup, you could see the Liberty Hill bench and crowd get emotionally invested in the game again. It might very have well been the single play that turned the tide, if there was any one play to choose.
“Man, that was just huge,” Lange said. “Anytime you can get the ‘and one’ in a tight situation like that, you get the crowd going, you get the bench going, and you get everybody else believing in what they are doing.”
Two made free throws from junior guard Bethany McLeod and a Vickers layup capped an 11-0 Liberty Hill run to start the fourth quarter, and the Lady Panthers led for the first time in the entire game.
Madisonville put Liberty Hill in the double bonus midway through the fourth quarter, and the Lady Panthers rode their way to victory from the free throw line. They had successfully came back from being down double digits in the third quarter.
But Lange never let his team say die. He said he knew they were going to win—somehow, someway his team would make it happen.
“The first half was rough,” Lange said. “But credit to the girls listening. I told them we were going to win it at halftime. You always say that as a coach, but sometimes you have to believe it.
Even third quarter, down by seven, I thought ‘okay, we’re going to get this. It’s just a matter of doing something.’ We started to get our wheels underneath us. We did it.”
The regional semi-final on Friday gave Liberty Hill its struggles in a whole different way. Wheatley also led after the first quarter, but due to the long ball. The Lady Wildcats led the Lady Panthers 14-11 after one quarter of play, including four three pointers.
The threes didn’t stop falling either. Wheatley made nine threes against Liberty Hill Friday, accounting for over 60 percent of the team’s points (27 out of 44).
Prince and Faurie kept the Panthers alive in the regional final, offensively. The junior duo scored all 21 first half points amongst themselves, and 38 of the team’s 49 for the entire game. Prince ended with 20 points and 18 rebounds against Wheatley.
The Lady Panthers closed out the game with a strong 17-point fourth quarter, shooting 8-for-10 from the free throw line in the fourth quarter.
Liberty Hill outscored Wheatley 17-10 in the final eight minutes to secure the 49-44 victory and berth into the regional semifinal against Madisonville.