Lady Panthers beat Navasota, advance to regional final

Madeline Cheney (#4) shoots the ball over a Navasota defender on the low block. Cheney drew a foul and made one of two free throws. (Brenda House Photo)

Madeline Cheney (#4) shoots the ball over a Navasota defender on the low block. Cheney drew a foul and made one of two free throws. (Brenda House Photo)

By Paul Livengood

CAMERON — For the second straight playoff game at Cameron Yoe High School, the Lady Panthers came away with a thrilling win Tuesday night pushing them deeper into the playoffs.

The last time the Lady Panthers tipped off in Cameron, Liberty Hill won a thrilling matchup against Mexia by a final score of 50-41.

Liberty Hill had struggles against Navasota early on Tuesday, but eventually pulled away with a 57-45 win.

The next stop on the road to State is the regional final at 6:15 p.m. this Friday, Feb. 24, at Sam Houston State University in Huntsville where the Liberty Hill faces Wheatley.

On Tuesday, despite having no players standing taller than 5-foot-8, Navasota brought the fight to the much taller Lady Panthers. The Lady Rattlers and Lady Panthers were tied after one quarter of play, and Liberty Hill led 27-23 at halftime.

“We scored the first bucket, and they went on a scoring run to go up 9-2 on us,” Head Coach Chris Lange said. “We made some bad mistakes early, but we put our heads on straight and fought back to an 11-11 first quarter. We got in foul trouble early. I told the girls that this is a good team, and to fight back to a 27-23 halftime lead with the foul trouble we were in was good. I was pleased with that.”

The third quarter was the difference maker. The Lady Panthers outscored the Lady Rattlers 15-9 in the period, taking a 10-point lead entering the final eight minutes of gameplay.

Bethany McLeod, junior guard, and Sedona Prince, junior center, took over the game in the fourth quarter. McLeod and Prince combined for 11 of the team’s 15 third-quarter points. Prince finished the game with a dominating performance of 28 points, 17 rebounds and six blocks.

“Sedona did a good job of getting post position, and did a good job protecting the paint for us,” Lange said. “Bethany picked up foul trouble and I let her play through it. Bethany had a big and one that helped us get that 6-7 point lead in the third quarter and I was proud of that.”

Ke’Aundra Eddings helped keep the Lady Rattlers around for most of the game, scoring a team-high 19 points against Liberty Hill. Eddings made two threes and attacked the Lady Panthers’ defense consistently, going to the free-throw line 10 times, where she made half of those opportunities.

“Eddings had a good game,” Lange said. “She was a quick guard and able to get inside. Savannah Stringfellow was the one I was looking out for originally, I thought she would be the one hitting the threes. She only hit four against Salado or something like that, and we held her to two. But Eddings had a solid game.”

Panthers’ junior guard Kandyn Faurie put the game out of reach with half her game’s production coming in the fourth quarter. Faurie scored 16 points total Tuesday night.
Liberty Hill vs. Mexia

Liberty Hill held on against a surging Mexia team last Friday night in the second round, slighting the Lady Black Cats 50-41. It was the first real challenge the Lady Panthers had faced in over a month.

“It’s been a while since we’ve had that (competition),” Lange said. “We had an opportunity to get out there and test yourself, test your mental stability. How you handle those types of situations was a good thing, we haven’t had that in a while.”

Liberty Hill’s lead ballooned to as many as 17 in the third quarter, leading Mexia to get desperate as the game got out of hand. The Lady Black Cats started chucking up prayers, and their prayers were being answered. Mexia dwindled that 17-point lead down to five with two minutes to go in the game, but a missed layup followed by a full-court pass by the Panthers to Madeline Cheney for a layup swung the momentum back in Liberty Hill’s direction.

“(Mexia) did a good job, and they didn’t roll over,” Lange said. “When kids are getting down, we’ve had other teams when we get a 15- to 18-point lead, and all of a sudden they start giving up and getting mad at each other. Those girls never quit. (Mexia’s coach) kept plugging them in, and he does a good job at keeping them under control in those tough situations.”

The Lady Panthers have a successful history in regional finals games in recent years, winning the past three regional titles. The last time Liberty Hill didn’t advance past the regional final was the 2013-14 season. Experience plays a huge factor in these deep playoff runs, and Liberty Hill has plenty of that, while Wheatley does not. Friday night will be the Wildcats’ first regional final game in program history.

“Yes, we’ve been there three years in a row,” Lange said, “but we had only one player from the team three years ago, I think, due to people graduating. We do have a few kids from the team last year that made it that far, but I don’t put a lot of stock in it. It all comes down to being battle tested. That’s why we played a tough non-conference schedule. The last two games we’ve really had to fight, and that has helped us recently.”

The Lady Panthers will travel to Sam Houston State University in Huntsville this Friday for the regional final against Wheatley, who won their area final against Cleveland 55-47. The Wheatley Wildcats won their district, posting a 29-3 record and had an undefeated district slate at 12-0.