Runnin’ Panthers are District Champs after win over Burnet
By KEITH SPARKS
The Runnin’ Panthers are officially District Champions. After a loss to Lampasas last week, what would have otherwise been a foregone conclusion became a bit muddier. Having a district loss on their record meant that the District Championship would come down to the Panthers’ final district game against Burnet on Tuesday.
The Panthers were up for the challenge, winning by a final score of 51-37 and sweeping the season series against the Bulldogs. The win gave the Panthers an 11-1 district record and 23-11, overall.
The Panthers struggled slightly in the first half, which can likely be attributed to the nerves that come along with a game of this caliber. Many of the Panthers had never been in a game with so much on line. Senior center Neil Stephens credited Head Coach Barry Boren for calming the team down during halftime and getting their heads where they needed to be.
“I think that we started out really hyped up, and we weren’t playing like we usually play,” Stephens said. “At halftime, Coach talked us down and said it’s just a regular game. We know how to beat this team, and we should just beat them.”
One of the biggest adjustments they made, Stephens said, was putting an emphasis on the “inside-out” game in order to get outside shooters open on the perimeter. The adjustment worked, as Stephens was able to pick apart the defense and find open shooters, particularly sophomore point guard Carson Perkins and junior shooting guard Parker McCurdy.
“We needed to get the ball into the post and back out to our shooters,” Stephens said. “They were really D-ing up our shooters, but if they swung the ball inside more, the defense would have to help off them and I’d dish it out.”
Perkins led the way for the Panthers with 19 points, followed by Stephens with 16 while McCurdy added 10.
Stephens, Perkins, Bryce Truslow, and Riley LaDuque were each on last year’s team that failed to take home the District Championship. After experiencing the disappointment that came with the end of last season, this year’s District Championship means that much more to those that were a part of the experience. Stephens, for one, said he was simply relieved to take home the title in his final year at Liberty Hill High School.
“It feels good…finally,” he said.
On Feb. 9, the Panthers faced Leander Glenn in Leander. A loss to Glenn would have opened up the possibility for the Panthers to fall to second in district with a loss to Burnet the following Tuesday, but the Panthers didn’t let either of those things happen. The Panthers beat Glenn by a final score of 59-50 to sweep the season series and ensure a tie for the District Title at the very worst.
McCurdy and Perkins each finished the game with 19 points, and Stephens added 11.
“I think we need to improve upon just playing team ball,” Stephens said. “Shoot whenever you’re open, shoot good shots, and just basic stuff.”
Following their District Championship, the Panthers will play in the Bi-district round of the playoffs. The opponent, date, and location will be announced later this week.