Liberty Hill wins, beating Lampasas 61-40

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By BOB VARMETTE

This will not be one to treasure for some time.

But the Class 4A No. 4 Liberty Hill Runnin’ Panthers won, beating the Lampasas Badgers 61-40 Friday night in District 25-4A boys basketball at Liberty Hill High School.

In the first district game between the teams in Lampasas Jan. 20, the Panthers won 74-23.

For the second game in a row, Liberty Hill didn’t turn in a robust offensive performance. A lack of intensity that led to a slow start was the cause against Salado; against Lampasas the intensity was better, but the execution was flat and the Panthers encountered difficulties getting the ball in the basket.

“We’re not satisfied, but a win will always be a win and that’s something we’ll always be grateful for,” Liberty Hill senior guard Callen Mikulencak said. “Every team is not just going to lay down and let you just run all over them. They’re going to give you their best shot.”

Mikulencak finished with a game-high 18 points. He had his shooting challenges just like his teammates, but he did manage to hit his last two 3-point attempts after misfiring on several earlier shots from behind the arc.

Junior reserve post Aedan Welch added 12 points for Liberty Hill (28-0, 7-0 District 25-4A). For him the shots were going in, and starting post Zach Lord contributed another nine points for a pretty good night for the Panthers’ bigs.

For everyone else, it seemed, it was just one of those nights.

“That just happens,” Welch said. “Everybody has to get over the slump.”

The Panthers were never really challenged by the Badgers (4-12, 2-5) after the first few minutes of the game. Leading just 10-8, Welch hit back-to-back buckets inside – the second gave Liberty Hill a 14-8 advantage with 2:22 in the first quarter.

Lord re-entered the game and got loose inside to put the Panthers up 16-8 barely 30 seconds later. The three buckets by Welch and Lord were part of a 17-0 run that spanned the latter half of the first quarter and the first half of the second quarter.

When the Badgers finally scored again, after going scoreless for more than eight minutes, the Panthers led 25-10. The rout was on – well, what would’ve been a rout had more Liberty Hill shots found the bottom of the net.

“I don’t think we were lacking intensity, it’s just that we didn’t take very smart shots, at times,” Mikulencak said. “Some shots wouldn’t go in, some things just wouldn’t fall for us, but that’s just the game of basketball.”

The Panthers slowly edged away from the Badgers and led 37-18 at halftime. But there would be no second-half or fourth-quarter wake-up call, as there was against the Salado Eagles a game earlier.

Even defensively, against an under-manned (Lampasas dressed just eight players) and under-sized opponent, Liberty Hill wasn’t able to clamp down, allowing 40 points after giving up just 23 a couple weeks earlier.

Caleb O’Conner led the Badgers with 15 points. James Franklin added 10 points.

“We played like a team that had beaten them by 51 and they played like a team we’d beat by 51. It wasn’t pretty. We’ll take it,” Liberty Hill coach Barry Boren said. “We’ve had two lackluster games this week, so we hope to play better next week.”

There are three more district games on the schedule. Whether it’s a shooting slump or a lack of intensity, the Panthers agree it’s time to get serious about playing better basketball.

“We’re winning, and that’s good. But we need to come out with more intensity,” Welch said. “We need to come out and have more fire than we did the past couple games. We beat a team once and we’re just, ‘We’re going to beat them again.’ We’re thinking it, but we need to come out and play with more energy.”

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