Panthers fall to rival Bulldogs in final seconds

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Josh Sudekum (#25) puts up a fadeaway jumper out of a Bulldog double-team. Sudekum finished the game last Friday with 11 points. (Alex Rubio Photo)

Josh Sudekum (#25) puts up a fadeaway jumper out of a Bulldog double-team. Sudekum finished the game last Friday with 11 points. (Alex Rubio Photo)

By KEITH SPARKS

When it comes time to name District 19-4A’s champion, it will likely come down to three teams: Liberty Hill, Lampasas and Burnet. Unfortunately for the Runnin’ Panthers, their last two losses have come to the other two teams on that list, their most recent loss coming by way of a late three-pointer by Burnet.

According to Head Coach Barry Boren, the Panthers have had to adjust their typical style of play to adapt to both Lampasas and Burnet.

“We play a certain style,” Boren said. “We have a system of play. In an effort to beat Burnet and Lampasas, we kind of game plan for both of them. On one hand, I guess you can say, ‘Well, it was a good game plan,’ because both games we had a chance to win.”

Liberty Hill typically employs a zone press, which they stayed away from last Friday, like they did Jan. Jan. 17 against Lampasas, opting to switch to a man-to-man half-court defense, instead.

The reasoning behind the defensive switch was to combat Burnet’s lineup that often consisted of five guards. A smaller, quicker Burnet lineup would have likely spelled death for the Panthers if they had opted to press, as Liberty Hill’s bigger forwards would have a harder time staying with the Bulldogs’ guards in the backcourt.

“They have four really good guards,” Boren said. “We negated their post man, but the adjustment they made was to put a fifth guard in there. It wasn’t necessarily that we played bad defense, they just played better offense.”

The Panthers found themselves down to their rival Bulldogs by six at the end of the first quarter, but had cut the deficit to two by halftime, thanks in large part to 10 first-half points from senior center Zach Lord, who finished with 24 on the night.

In the second half, the Panthers struggled to matchup with the Bulldogs’ five-guard lineup, as the Liberty Hill bigs had issues guarding them on the perimeter, leading to a number of open jump shots.

The Bulldogs’ final play found one of their five guards wide open in the corner for a three as the game was tied. He knocked it down, putting Burnet up by three with only five seconds left. The Panthers got a good look at a three from the top of the key to tie, but came up short and lost by a final score of 57-54.

Josh Sudekum finished with 11 for the Panthers, 7 of which came in the second half, and Clayton Kuhlmann finished with 10.

The Panthers had a bye on Tuesday, giving them a full week off between games before their upcoming away game against Taylor on Friday. In order to keep his team energized over the bye week, Coach Boren has switched up the practice schedule a bit, giving the team Saturday off and adding up-tempo competition-style drills to the mix.

Boren noted that after a close loss like the one they experienced last Friday against Burnet, it can be easy for a young team to get down on themselves and lose the vigor that can be so important to a team’s success late in the season. Adding more fun, competitive drills to the practice schedule was part of Boren’s plan to keep the Panthers energized and motivated during their bye week.

“The last two days, it’s been competitive,” Boren said. “The kids have had fun. I think that’s just part of the magic of coaching. You’ve got to keep them into it. You’ve got to figure out a way, because a district race is more like a distance run than a sprint.”

The Panthers will play the Taylor Ducks on Friday at Taylor High School at 6:30 p.m. as they begin the second half of their district season. Next Tuesday, they’ll play Salado in a home game at 6:30 p.m.

Sports@LHIndependent.com

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