Running’ Panther basketball looks to improve during pre-district schedule

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By KEITH SPARKS

As the Liberty Hill varsity football team starts its playoff run, it leaves the basketball team without two key players in Garrett Wright and Carter Ware. Wright and Ware are two of seven returning lettermen, which should bring some stability to the program; stability that will be much needed, as they’ll likely be starting a freshman point guard on day one in Carson Perkins. Not only is Perkins a freshman, but he was also forced to sit out his eighth-grade season due to injury.

“We’re very much a work in progress,” said Panthers’ Head Coach Barry Boren. “We have some guys that have got some experience, but we’ve got a freshman point guard, so there’s going to be a learning curve there. He was hurt his eighth-grade year, so he hasn’t actually played school ball since seventh grade. He played AAU and stuff last summer, but he’s having to make a pretty significant jump. The thing about it is, we’ve got size, we just haven’t put it all together, yet.”

The Panthers are returning senior starters Zach Lord and Josh Sudekum, who have each played at the varsity level for four years, Bryce Truslow, last year’s district Newcomer of the Year, Clayton Kuhlmann, Riley LaDuque, Garrett Wright and Carter Ware.

Coach Boren is counting on the additions of Wright and Ware, both in the midst of a playoff run with the varsity football team, to bring some fire and mental toughness to a team that could use it. The Panthers played in a scrimmage against Austin Anderson on Saturday, during which Coach Boren said mental strength was their biggest issue.

“We’ve got to get better at handling adverse situations,” Boren said. “When we turn it over, we can’t just crumble. We’ve got to pick up the pieces and keep playing.”

The Panthers’ varsity roster will also feature seniors Ethan Hershberger and Ethan Fullmer, and junior Neil Stephens, who will all be moving up from last year’s junior varsity team that went 23-3 last season.

Liberty Hill’s varsity team finished second in the district standings last year, and will likely be among the top teams in the district once again. Coach Boren sees Burnet, Taylor, and Lampasas as the Panthers’ biggest threats to a district title.

“Burnet has got three guards that have been playing together since they were in the seventh grade,” Boren said. “They’re going to be formative. Lampasas has the coach’s son and another senior, and the two of them have been on the varsity since they were sophomores, and they have a 6’7” kid that moved in last year. He’s a senior. Those three guys right there. They’re returning nearly everybody.

“Taylor has a kid named Malik Jackson, who was the defensive player of the year in our league, who has already signed with Tulsa to play football. They were the district champs last year. Those three teams are all going to be really good.”

The Panthers will play mostly 5A and 6A schools early in the season, something that Coach Boren hopes will help his team grow by the time district play starts.

“We’re playing nearly nothing but big schools early,” Boren said. “We may take our lumps early, but what I’m counting on is we’re going to be good enough by the time we get to our league play, that we’re going to be good enough to win our league.”

The scheduling of games against bigger schools is also something that Coach Boren hopes will give the Panthers an advantage next year, when Liberty Hill athletics will likely move up to the 5A level.

“In the next realignment, we will be going to 5A,” Boren said, “so we’re playing a predominantly 5A schedule right now. We’re the largest 4A in the state, so it’s pretty much a foregone conclusion that we won’t miss the cut next time, because we’re only going to keep growing. We’re not going to start losing students; we’re just going to keep getting them. At that point, having played the schedule that we’ve played surely should help us.”

The Panthers will play their first official game on Tuesday, Nov. 15, against Austin High School. Although Austin High is a significantly larger school than Liberty Hill, don’t expect the Panthers to come into Friday’s game looking for a moral victory. They expect to win.

“Between our scrimmage and our first game, I’m hoping that we get better through reps,” Boren said, “at doing some stuff that we’re trying to do. I don’t want to come out of the gate and lose ballgames. I want to play to win. We’ve got most of our early games at home. I think that should help. We should be ready to win, not just go out there and compete. We’re playing some people that we should be able to do the things necessary to come out on top. Even though some of these schools are a lot bigger than us, I don’t think that we can’t win. That’s what I’m shooting for.”

The Panthers’ first game against the Austin High School Maroons will take place at the Liberty Hill High School gym at 6:30 p.m.

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