By Keith Sparks
The Panthers solidified themselves among the top of the district on Jan. 12, as they easily dismissed the Lampasas Badgers by a score of 67-49. Prior to the start of the 2017-2018 season, the Badgers were widely regarded as one of the best teams in the district. Now, they sit in fifth place as Liberty Hill and Burnet are tied for first with undefeated district records.
Liberty Hill Head Coach Barry Boren explained that some people may have been surprised by the results based on their season records alone, but he wasn’t.
“Lampasas won the district last year, but most people with intelligence picked us to win the district (this year),” Boren said. “A lot of people go by record, and going into district, Lampasas had the best record. Once we started district, they lost two straight to Glenn and Salado, so going into our game, their backs were really against a wall.”
While their backs may have been against a wall, the Badgers were also missing an important piece due to circumstances that weren’t basketball related, causing them to play a bit shorthanded.
The Panthers jumped out to an early 14-5 lead and never looked back. Scoring was spread out in the first quarter, as Neil Stephens finished the quarter with four points, Carson Perkins with three, Chad Leath with three, and Parker McCurdy and Kory Schmidt with two each.
Boren was encouraged by his team’s first-quarter performance, but admitted there was some nervousness as Stephens got into early foul trouble. Luckily for the Panthers, Schmidt stepped up in his absence.
“We jumped out on them early, but here’s what was significant. The first two possessions of the game, Neil gets two fouls,” Boren said. “He never got a touch. I put Kory Schmidt in, and the first time he touched the ball, he got a three-point play.”
While Stephens was able to finish the first half without picking up another foul, he eventually fouled out early in the fourth quarter, forcing Schmidt to play more minutes than usual. Based on Schmidt’s experience in both varsity baseball and football, Boren trusted his ability to step up.
“Schmidt wound up playing over half the game,” Boren said. “He played well. I mean, we beat them by 18. Kory was the varsity catcher as a sophomore, played varsity football as a sophomore, and this year, he was Second-Team All-District as a junior, so he’s been in the moment. He’s played with pressure, and he’s not going to do something selfish.”
The Badgers competed more effectively in the second quarter, but the Panthers held strong and entered halftime with a 28-20 lead.
Lampasas won the third quarter, as well, as Liberty Hill held only a six-point lead heading into the fourth quarter. The final quarter, on the other hand, was a blowout in favor of the Panthers, as they scored 26 points in the quarter to put the Badgers away for good.
Perkins led the way for Liberty Hill with a game-high 24 points, followed by McCurdy with 16 and Stephens with 10.
Boren praised his team’s efficiency at the free-throw line, where they went 24 for 26 as a team, led by McCurdy, who went a perfect 10 for 10, and Perkins, who went a perfect 7 for 7.
The Panthers were scheduled to face Leander Glenn on Tuesday, but the game was postponed until Wednesday due to weather concerns. The two teams were scheduled to play at Liberty Hill High School at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, after press time for The Independent.
On Friday, the Panthers will play Burnet at Burnet High School for the first time this season. Boren sees the Bulldogs as their toughest competition in district play.
“They’re going to play man-to-man defense, and they’re going to be pretty conservative,” Boren said. “Supposedly, they shoot the three very well, and typically, the way that they break the press has given us some problems. It’s hard to play in Burnet. For whatever reason, it’s been a hard place to play.”
Liberty Hill’s game against the Bulldogs will take place in Burnet at 6:30 p.m. on Friday.