Liberty Hill falls short of state title aspirations
By Paul Livengood
SAN ANTONIO—Liberty Hill was one game away from securing its first ever state title.
Argyle, the team that kicked the Lady Panthers out of the state semi-finals in 2016 and in the 2017 Jack Frost tournament, stood in their way. The Lady Panthers fell to the Lady Eagles again, 30-40. With the win, Argyle has won three straight Class 4A state championships.
“Our girls played hard,” Head Coach Chris Lange said. “We struggled in some areas to get shots to fall. The movement on offense, that falls back on me. It’s also credit to what they did on defense. Argyle played a great job on defense. They had the same game plan. The luxury of having those size kids, they are able to sit back and just do what they do. They haven’t changed a lick. Nothing.”
Liberty Hill trailed in the fourth quarter by as much as seven, after Argyle’s Gabby Standifer banked in a prayer three-pointer from the left wing. Standifer hit four out of nine three point attempts on the night.
But the Lady Panthers had been in this situation for the past month. Recent comebacks in Liberty Hill’s portfolio include: 45-38 deficit to Godley with 2:11 left in the fourth quarter of the state semi-final, an 11-point second half comeback over Madisonville in the region final, and outscoring Wheatley 17-10 in the fourth quarter of the region semi-final game.
The Lady Panthers are all too familiar with making magic happen late in games. A turnaround jumper from the hands of junior center Sedona Prince narrowed the Eagles’ lead to 33-30 with 1:33 left in the game. Argyle used a timeout, and drew a foul, which put the Eagles in the bonus. Sophie Betzhold scored one of two free throws in the one-and-one free throw trip, putting Argyle up 34-30 with under a minute to go.
The region three champs didn’t have any more bunnies in the hat or cards up their sleeves. The Lady Panthers could not make any more shots for the rest of the game. With each missed Liberty Hill shot, an Argyle rebound followed. The Lady Panthers kept fouling intentionally with the hopes that the Eagles would miss their free throws.
Liberty Hill sent Argyle’s best player to the charity stripe, Vivian Gray. Up to this point, Gray was 0-5 at the free throw line. Gray made both free throws and extended the Lady Panthers’ deficit to six, and would eventually make the final two free throws of the game. Gray finished the game with 14 points, 15 rebounds, and the MVP honors for the game.
The Lady Panthers and Lady Eagles fought back and forth, tooth and nail the entire first half. Kandyn Faurie hit a 35-foot three-pointer at the buzzer to tie the game 7-7 after the first quarter. It would be the only field goal the junior made from the field.
Standifer hit a buzzer beater, as well — hers coming right before halftime to give Argyle a 17-13 lead at the time.
Prince was called for her third foul of the game seconds into the third quarter and was forced to the bench, and that was when Argyle opened its lead. When the 6-foot-7 junior checked back in with 4:35 remaining in the third, the Eagles were ahead 24-13.
The Lady Panthers finished the third quarter on a 9-4 run since Prince checked in.
Prince racked up 10 points, 13 rebounds, two steals and two blocks. Bethany McLeod added seven more points in the near comeback, scoring four of her seven in the fourth quarter.
Liberty Hill finished the season 36-3, and made program history by qualifying for its first ever state championship game.
“It’s awesome,” Lange said of the effect on making it to the state final. “To have these kids get to experience something like this, and knowing how hard they worked, all you can do is hold your head high and be very proud of your team. I am. I’m super proud of them. It just wasn’t meant to be.”
The team is junior heavy, so a return to the state tournament in 2018 will certainly be a tangible goal. But for now, the Liberty Hill Lady Panthers are the 2017 Class 4A state runners up.