Lady Panthers rip highly-ranked La Grange
By Scott Akanewich
The Lady Leopards of La Grange entered their second-round Class 4A state playoff game with a sparkling 30-4 record on the season and a top-15 ranking.
However, the Lady Panthers of Liberty Hill couldn’t have cared less about records and rankings.
Liberty Hill defeated La Grange by a score of 52-28 in a contest they controlled from start to finish on Friday in Taylor.
Emma Hubbard led the Lady Panthers with 13 points and nine rebounds, while Kenzy Wise added six points and 11 boards on an evening which saw plenty of gritty, gutty, physical play that suits the sophomore dynamic duo perfectly.
According to Hubbard, her recent resurgence is attributed to a mental adjustment she made coming down the stretch of the season.
“I think my mindset changed,” said Hubbard, who has played with much more physicality and aggressiveness. “Before, I wanted to do well and win, but I didn’t take it as seriously as I should have. But, ever since the Salado game, it’s been different.”
Avery Harrell stole the ball and drove for a layup for the game’s first points, but neither team scored after that until 5:05 was left in the opening quarter, when Hubbard got her first bucket of the night, as the teams battled back-and-forth in hectic, sloppy fashion.
Hubbard scored again, then immediately blocked a shot at the other end of the court to make it 6-5 in favor of Liberty Hill nearing the end of the first period.
At that point, Wise began scoring to go along with her relentless rebounding, scoring the final two baskets of the quarter, as the Lady Panthers led, 10-5.
Wise pulled down four boards in the opening eight minutes, which was a precursor for what was to come for the balance of the game, said Liberty Hill head coach Chris Lange.
“Ever since Kenzy was a freshman, she’s taken a beating,” he said of his tenacious power forward. “She never backs down.”
In fact, after being hit by a wayward hand during a particular scrum, Wise’s lip got stuck in her braces – but she simply kept right on going in winding up red-faced from exertion as is her custom.
Once the second stanza was underway, it was time for the Lady Panthers’ bench to stamp its authority on the proceedings.
Taylor Swieczkowski made an instant impact, scoring a bucket to extend the Liberty Hill lead, which was followed by a Madison Walker three to double up the Leopards at 14-7.
Lange appreciated the contributions he got from his back-ups.
“Taylor came on and was 2-of-2 for us,” he said. “Both Walkers (Regan and Madison) made a few turnovers early, but bounced back strong and Kailey Berzin was much more physical.”
Olivia Shelton scored the final points of the first half with a short-range shot and the Lady Panthers led at the half, 20-14.
Once the squads emerged for the second half, Liberty Hill put the clamps on defensively.
In fact, La Grange scored only a single point the entire third quarter on a free throw after being fouled on the only shot they were able to muster.
Meanwhile, the Purple-and-Gold continued to hammer the Leopards at the offensive end.
Baylee Laird hit a pair of free-throws to get things going, then after a Hubbard block, Wise scored on a nice pass from point guard Harrell, after which Laird hit a 3-pointer to punctuate a 7-0 Lady Panthers run.
Finally, Hubbard scored, then blocked another shot before Morgan Jackson hit a basket to give Liberty Hill a 31-15 advantage after three.
As if they hadn’t already dominated impressively enough throughout the opening three periods, the Lady Panthers really poured in on during the final eight minutes of the game and in doing so, offered La Grange absolutely no hope of a comeback, scoring 21 points in the period.
Berzin and Regan Walker drained buckets to begin the fourth, then Swieczkowski got her second of the night before Hubbard closed out her scoring account for the evening with another two points.
Gloria Kostroun and Ashlyn Calhoun both got on the board for the final two Liberty Hill baskets of the game, with Calhoun hitting a three.
In addition to the scoring heroics of Hubbard and Wise, Regan Walker and Laird scored five points apiece and Madison Walker four.
Lange was understandably pleased after his club had made their opponents look more like they had a reversed record of their 30-4 mark.
“It was a good game – we played hard,” he said. “We’re not 30-4 because of the schedule we play all season.”
Also praised was Harrell, who once against ran the offense masterfully, said Lange.
“Avery’s been getting better as she’s become more aggressive,” he said.
However, despite the fact his side had just punched its ticket to the third round, Lange was rather matter-of-fact.
“We’ve done this every year for the last five,” he said. “But, the players did their jobs tonight and I’m so proud of them.”
Hubbard said she and her teammates will continue to succeed as long as they maintain their approach.
“I feel our confidence is better even though we’re going to be playing harder teams,” she said. “We just have to remain humble.”
Liberty Hill (23-14) will next face Fredericksburg (24-7) in the regional quarterfinals in Marble Falls on Tuesday.