The shot heard ‘Round the Hill Country’
By Keith Sparks
SAN ANTONIO — Although the Runnin’ Panther basketball team experienced the lowest of lows at the Alamodome on Saturday after losing the State Championship on a buzzer-beating dunk, they’ll always carry with them the elation of Friday afternoon’s State Semifinal, as will the Panther fans that watched.
A day before experiencing the the last-second loss, the Panthers experienced the highest of highs, thanks to senior guard Parker McCurdy’s buzzer-beating, game-winning three-point shot that sent them to the State Championship.
McCurdy’s shot came on the heels of an unlikely 16-point comeback in the State Semifinal against Decatur, capping off a fourth quarter that absolutely nobody saw coming. Down one with less than 10 seconds left to play, Liberty Hill was forced to foul Decatur, who missed a critical free throw to give the Panthers a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
Kaleb Bannon rebounded the missed free throw, Decatur’s second straight miss on the front end of a one-and-one, before immediately finding point guard Carson Perkins streaking up the sideline for the outlet pass. Perkins controlled the ball, was stopped by the Decatur defense near mid-court, then found Bannon offering help nearby. Bannon corralled a difficult pass from Perkins, avoiding the backcourt violation, before finding McCurdy with just a few feet of space in the corner. What transpired next is what most athletes can only dream of.
McCurdy, arguably the Panthers’ best spot-up shooter, did the only thing he could do with time winding down and the Panthers down one; he shot a three with a defender in his face. With no time to think about his shooting form or whether or not he had a good look, muscle memory took over.
“It really happened so fast,” McCurdy said. “I made the shot, but it took me a while to realize we had just won the game.”
Every basketball player in the world has practiced such a moment in their backyard as kids, counting down on the game clock in their heads and pretending to hit a game-winner in the State Championship. McCurdy was no exception, but he never anticipated he’d actually get to live out such an experience.
“Of course, yeah, I’d do that all the time, but I never would have imagined that it actually would happen in the State Tournament, to get to the championship game with a game-winner,” McCurdy said. “I’ve been asked and thought about that, and it almost seems kind of scripted, and it’s just hard to put into words how crazy it is that it actually happened.”
Immediately following the shot, the entire Panther team sprinted from the bench directly to McCurdy to celebrate with him and with the Panther fans on the other side of the court. The coaches, of course, waited until the referee confirmed that the ball was released on time, then wasted no time in joining the young men on the floor after aggressively tossing their coaching materials to the side.
McCurdy said he’s watched the video of his shot and the reaction it garnered nearly 1,000 times, and his favorite part is seeing the “raw emotion” on his teammates’ faces.
“It was kind of an amazing feeling just seeing the raw emotion and excitement on my teammates’ faces as they were just coming at me,” McCurdy said. “I’ve seen the video about 1,000 times, and just watching everyone’s reactions is my favorite part. There’s a picture of me and Kaleb hugging, me and Jareck (Naylor) hugging, and it was just crazy to see.”
In 2019, Twitter is king of social media for high school students, so McCurdy went right to his phone in the locker room to see the reaction online. In his words, his phone was “blowing up” with texts, retweets, videos, and tags from friends, family, and basketball blogs across the country.
“Right after I hit that shot I checked my phone, and I think some of the big ones that posted about me were Hoop Insider and the UIL, and I thought that was crazy,” McCurdy said. “Some of my older sister’s friends that used to know me when I was really little, they posted about me, and that was kind of my favorite part, because I remember them playing high school basketball and looking up to them, and those people posted about me hitting the shot. Some of my friends from school posted about it. My phone was kind of blowing up, and it was crazy to see all those people talking about me.”
One response to the UIL’s tweet that included photos of McCurdy’s shot was from a man that called all youth basketball players to focus on his follow-through, which any basketball player or coach will tell you is near perfect. McCurdy said that was one of his favorite comments, considering the passion he’s recently found for coaching the younger generation.
“I’m glad you said that, because that was actually one of my favorite comments that I saw, too,” McCurdy said. “I know there are some kids that probably saw my shot, too, and I actually coached some fifth- and sixth-graders this year, so it’s kind of awesome to see that kids are looking up to me. I saw some videos of the intermediate and the junior high watching the shot, and it really is something that’s pretty awesome to hand down to students and help them out with their shot and their follow-through.”
Despite how perfect the final shot played out, Liberty Hill Head Coach Barry Boren made it clear that he had nothing to do with the play that was run, giving all the credit to his players for improvising in a situation that required them to do so.
“No, we’re going to go ahead and reveal this now,” Boren said. “We’ve got some things we go to. At the end of practice, we practice situations, so I got cute and made a play call earlier and the kids ran it incorrectly. Then Jareck fouled out and we stuck Cade (Cole) in there at a position he’s never played. We drew it up and they denied the ball where we wanted it to go, so the kids just made a play. I claim no responsibility for what happened.”
At the podium after the game, McCurdy was joined by Boren and his fellow seniors for media interviews, during which Boren mentioned McCurdy as one of his best players and guaranteed that he’d receive some postseason accolades. Boren said the opportunity to coach this team for one more game was a blessing in and of itself.
“Just the chance to get to have one more game with these guys,” Boren said. “It hasn’t just been the destination, it’s been the journey.”
Regarding McCurdy’s final shot, Boren said it’s simply what’s expected of big-time players.
“Big players make big plays at big times, and Parker sure did,” Boren said.
While Saturday’s State Championship was just as heartbreaking as the State Semifinal was spectacular, McCurdy has no regrets, instead choosing to find satisfaction in the fact that his team played in as many games as they possibly could, down to the State Championship.
“I’m disappointed in what the outcome was, but I’m super proud of the team,” McCurdy said. “The best part of the season was that we didn’t get cut short ever. We played every single game that we possibly could have, and that was just my favorite part.”
Although the Panthers won’t have a State Championship ring to show for it, McCurdy and his teammates will always carry with them the memory of one of the greatest high school basketball shots of all time.