No sting as Panthers rout Jackets, 73-19

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By BOB VARMETTE

“Intensity from the start,” a Liberty Hill fan yelled out just prior to tip off.

The Liberty Hill Runnin’ Panthers obliged, and this time on both offense and defense.

The Class 4A No. 5 Panthers held the Llano Yellowjackets to just a single point in the first quarter and ran away for a 73-19 victory in District 25-4A boys basketball at Liberty Hill High School Tuesday night.

“Awesome – it was awesome, man,” Liberty Hill coach Barry Boren said. “I told the kids today not to get tired of playing, not to get bored with it. When you’ve been doing it as long we’ve been doing it, and you’re doing the same thing over and over again, it does get boring. But I reminded them that the really good teams don’t do new stuff every day. They do the same stuff every day and they do it until it becomes second nature.”

The Panthers were far from bored. They were, in fact, tenacious on defense throughout the entire game, forcing 32 turnovers by the Jackets.

And offensively, the Panthers — plagued by a slow start against the Burnet Bulldogs Friday night — came out with a vengeance, scoring 20 first-quarter points.

Senior guard Callen Mikulencak led Liberty Hill with a game-high 18 points. Junior guard Conner Lowe also scored in double figures for the Panthers, finishing with 10 points — three 3s, with one a four-point play.

Defense, however, was the order of the day – nobody for the Jackets finished with more than four points or more than one field goal.

“Before the game, weren’t really as hyped-up as usual, which kind of scared us, really,” Liberty Hill senior Slater Foust said. “Normally, we’re all yelling in the locker room and everything, but we were just quiet, which I thought was weird. But I guess we just saved it up for the start of the game.”

Liberty Hill scored the first 13 points of the game. Llano, on the other hand, was committing turnovers – four in the first three minutes and nine for the first quarter.

The Jackets didn’t score their first point of the game until there was 3:40 left in the first quarter and trailed 20-1 heading into the second quarter. Llano finally got its first field goal midway through the second quarter and trailed 40-7 at halftime, deluged by a balance scoring onslaught that saw Mikulencak score eight points, Conner Lowe and junior forward Trey Jenkins six, and junior guard Carson Lowe five points.

“I really was pleased with the way we came out tonight,” Boren said. “We came out from the get-go and I felt like we played with a lot of energy. We did a lot of good stuff. I was really pleased with them.”

There was no relaxing in the second half. Mikulencak scored nine points in the third quarter and sophomore forward Josh Sudekum added another six.

Llano scored just four points in the third quarter, two coming on free throws. The Jackets had their best quarter in the fourth, scoring eight points.

After turning the ball over 19 times in the first half, Llano turned it over another 13 times in the final two quarters. Three of those turnovers resulted in six of Mikulencak’s third-quarter points as the Panthers’ tenacious defense translated into easy buckets on the other end.

“It takes a lot of effort, which we learn in practice every day,” Foust said. “Coach Boren pushes us real hard and everyone’s used to it. … We made a real good defensive stand today.”

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