Runnin’ Panthers headed to coast for regional semi-finals
By Joseph Garcia
SAN MARCOS – The regional playoff game did not exactly begin the way Liberty Hill Coach Barry Boren would have preferred, but he got the result he was looking for.
Liberty Hill (33-3) showed its resilience and fight on Tuesday, clawing its way back from an 11-point deficit, pouncing on the Hondo Owls (25-8) for a 61-48 win to send the Runnin’ Panthers to the regional semifinal round in Corpus Christi on Friday, March 2.
Matching the girls’ feat, the boys will play at the American Bank Center in downtown Corpus Christi for the rights to play at the state tournament in Austin.
“It’s all good from here on out,” Boren exhaled. “We’re where we really wanted to be and so now it’s a new season where anything can happen. We are going to enjoy this tonight and start getting ready to go tomorrow.”
After Liberty Hill took an early 3-0 lead, the Hondo Owls went on a 13-0 run before the Runnin’ Panthers finally began to settle down.
By the end of the first quarter Liberty Hill was down 15-6 after only two made field goals in the period. Coach Boren, however, had a few words of advice for his team.
“One of the last things I said to the kids was this: whether you are up or down it is a four-quarter game so you can’t get too high or too low no matter what happens,” Boren said.
Despite Liberty Hill missing about 10 shots in a row, the Runnin’ Panthers used a 7-0 run highlighted by five Stephen Graves points. Liberty Hill took the lead back after Hondo guard A.J. Garcia received a technical foul for disagreeing with a foul on Shane LaCaille.
Routinely, LaCaille knocked down his free throws –four in a row – to push the Panthers on top 21-17.
Junior Blake Danielak and senior Tyeler Greenstreet scored four points a piece in the second quarter and Blake Hare ended the half with a three to give Liberty Hill a 28-24 halftime lead.
The teams traded baskets to begin the second half when Coach Boren made sure to put his 6-8 forward to work.
“In the first half the offense was at the other end of the court from me so it was really hard for me to help them,” said Boren. “When we actually came back in the game, I thought it was because we went inside and established (Blake) Danielak as a force, and in the second half we maintained that.”
Danielak scored 10 of his 17 points in the second half – six in the third quarter – helping the Panther offense get in rhythm.
“In the first and second quarter we were rushing and weren’t hitting shots,” said LaCaille. “We were in the huddle and said just keep shooting because we knew we were going to get back in it because we have the desire to. Blake Danielak, all the shots he made were the difference in the game.”
Danielak’s most commanding points of the night came with just over a minute left in the game with LaCaille found him wide open for a breakaway two-handed dunk.
LaCaille, with a steady hand and head, hit 14-15 free throws for 25 points to cap the win for Liberty Hill much to the pleasure of Coach Boren who says they play with the intention of getting the ball in LaCaille’s hands late to seal the deal.
“Shane is definitely one of the better players in my opinion is class 3A in the state of Texas,” Boren boasted. “He did what he does best; I thought he managed the game…he is a good free throw shooter and he’s the guy that we want to have the ball in his hands come crunch time.”
The Runnin’ Panthers will face the same opponent the Lady Panthers defeated in last week’s semifinal round in Corpus Christi West Oso after defeated Columbia 62-44.
To reach this point of the playoffs is something that LaCaille et al does not take lightly.
“It’s pretty amazing because the past two years we were 30-5 and then lost the first playoff game,” LaCaille said. “Going to regionals with this team, everyone doubted us because we lost 10 seniors; it feels amazing to pull this one through.”
Liberty Hill will play West Oso Friday, March 2 at 8 p.m. at the American Bank Center in Corpus Christi.