Panthers right ship after unsteady start against Texans

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Liberty Hill’s Slater Foust drives to the basket as Wimberley’s Will Simpson defends Tuesday night during a non-district game at Liberty Hill High School. The Runnin’ Panthers defeated the Texans 75-37. (Kathy Canady Photo)

Liberty Hill’s Slater Foust drives to the basket as Wimberley’s Will Simpson defends Tuesday night during a non-district game at Liberty Hill High School. The Runnin’ Panthers defeated the Texans 75-37. (Kathy Canady Photo)

By BOB VARMETTE

A lot of people are saying some nice things about the Liberty Hill Runnin’ Panthers.

With their 75-37 win over the Wimberley Texans Tuesday night in boys non-district basketball at Liberty Hill High School, the Panthers remain perfect at 20-0 and they are ranked No. 5 in Class 4A.

The Panthers seem to have everything they need to make an extended postseason run. But, of course, they still have to play the games.

The Panthers got a reminder of that from the Texans.

“I think we talked about it earlier today about how you start reading about what you’ve done and you start looking at your opponent and seeing how they’ve done,” Liberty Hill coach Barry Boren said. “You start thinking about the game the way that it looks on paper, and the unfortunate thing is the game isn’t played on paper. You’ve got to play it on the court.”

Boren said he also told the Panthers during that conversation earlier in the day that they would win the game, but only if they played like they wanted to win.

And that was not what the Panthers were doing for the first 5 1-2 minutes. Perhaps, the Panthers were thinking about that perfect record, or, looking at the Texans’ 10-6 mark. Whatever it was, Liberty Hill thudded offensively for the better part of the first quarter. Indeed, the Panthers looked almost discombobulated as the Texans led 8-7 just past the midway point of the first quarter.

Then Liberty Hill sophomore post Zach Lord got inside and got fouled, and hit his two free throws. The Panthers had their first lead at 9-8 with 2:20 in the first quarter.

It was an innocuous start to the rout the game would become.

“We didn’t start the greatest,” the 6-foot-9 Lord said. “We just came out here expecting to win because we were 19-0 and we just thought it was going to be easy. We kicked it into gear when Callen got into us and got us going. We didn’t look back.”

Liberty Hill ran off 12 straight points, capped by Lord’s three-point play after he was fouled inside with 52 seconds in the opening quarter. Liberty Hill led 21-11 after the first eight minutes, and the ship was righted.

The first quarter was a big quarter for Lord – or rather the last 2:20 of the first quarter. He scored seven points, going 3-of-3 from the foul line.

Lord ended the night with 17 points.

“When Zach’s in the right frame of mind, he’s unstoppable,” Boren said. “For a kid his age and his size his footwork and hands are phenomenal.”

Senior guard Callen Mikulencak scored a game-best 18 points to lead Liberty Hill. After just two points in the opening eight minutes, he caught fire in the second quarter.

Mikulencak started with three free throws and then scored eight straight points midway through the second quarter as the Runnin’ Panthers were off and running. Mikulencak was the outside threat, hitting back-to-back 3s, to Lord’s inside presence.

“Callen got us going,” Lord said. “He just led us, he just took the ball and he was gone.”

More impressive than the offensive renaissance of the Panthers was their defensive performance.

Wimberley never scored more than 12 points in a quarter, and that came in the final quarter when the game was totally out of hand. Once the Panthers got the offense running, the defense clamped down even harder on the Texans, holding them to eight points in the second quarter and just six points in the third quarter.

In the end, the Texans, who committed 22 turnovers in the game, were throwing the ball to empty space and launching prayerful 3s.

Sophomore Davin Masur, Wimberley’s 3-point threat, was held to just a pair of 3s and finished with eight points. Ditto for senior Carter Garrison, who came in averaging 15 points per game.

“I actually watched some game film on Wimberley so I had a decent idea of what they were going to try to do to us,” Boren said. “We were looking at their key individuals and I thought we were ready to play.”

Defensively, yes. Offensively, well, just not right from the opening tip.

But that was not because the Panthers were 19-0 and ranked fifth in the state.

“We want to be No. 1 and we have to work towards that,” Lord said. “No. 5 is great, but we want to be No. 1.”

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