Lady Panthers shut down Burnet, 46-36
By Scott Akanewich
Only one thing was bigger for the Liberty Hill girls’ basketball squad on Saturday than the fact it was the district opener.
The fact it was against Burnet.
In their gym.
So, a 46-36 victory against the Lady Dawgs was exactly what the hoops doctor ordered for the Purple-and-Gold as Jessica Holliday and Kenzy Wise each scored nine points to pace the Lady Panthers’ victory over their rivals.
At the outset, it looked as if the visitors would blow the home side out of the building.
Holliday hit a three on the Lady Panthers’ first possession of the game and after Burnet responded with a pair of buckets including a 3-pointer to take a brief 5-3 lead, Baylee Laird fired back for Liberty Hill with a three of her own to regain the lead.
After Kailey Berzin sunk a pair of free throws, Wise came off the bench and scored her first bucket of the evening on a strong drive to the basket off a pass from Brooke Wright and was fouled.
Wise completed the and-one, which was followed in rapid succession by an Olivia Shelton score and another Wise basket sandwiched around a Wright free throw, which completed a 13-0 Liberty Hill run and provided the Lady Panthers with a commanding 16-7 lead after the opening quarter.
Madison Walker then drained a three to open the second stanza, which was followed moments later by another from sister Regan Walker and the lead was increased to 26-9 and the half ended with the Lady Panthers up by a score of 26-14.
However, when the teams emerged from the locker room to begin the second half, a different Lady Dawgs team showed up – one which was more aggressive.
Sydne Massoletti hit three consecutive Burnet buckets to open the third, cutting the lead to 10 points at 29-19, but Avery Harrell and Morgan Jackson hit back-to-back 3-pointers to quiet the hosts.
Holliday then hit from distance before Jackson chalked up another three and the Liberty Hill lead was 38-22 after three.
Burnet went on an 8-0 run midway through the fourth quarter to close the deficit to 41-33 with 1:17 left, but all they could do as the clock ran down was foul Liberty Hill players, leaving Holliday and Laird to close the deal from the line.
As for his team’s mid-game struggles, Lady Panthers’ head coach Chris Lange put it down to sloppiness with the ball on his squad’s part.
“We had turnovers a few times too many,” he said. “Also, we struggled to get into our offense. But, give credit to Burnet – they took advantage of our lapses in play.”
Wise was winded after her ferocious effort.
“Right now, I’m really tired,” she said. “We’ve been working on this game for three weeks, learning what they do, so we were ready.”
Lange appreciated the fire Wise showed on the night.
“Kenzy’s like the Energizer bunny,” he said. “She gets rebounds and plays really good defense – she really got after it tonight.”
In the absence of injured center Emma Hubbard, junior forward Taylor Swieczkowski got significant minutes and asserted herself physically, said Lange.
“Taylor was a little more aggressive tonight,” he said. “She took some shots.”
The Lady Panthers had eight 3-pointers in the game to only six two-point field goals, taking advantage of open shots from beyond the arc time and again and were 10-of-12 from the free-throw line.
Wise stressed the significance of opening district play with a victory.
“It’s very important because it makes us more confident,” she said.
As for her role off the bench, Wise said she likes to provide a spark when her team needs it.
“When the starting group is off, I want to be able to pick them up,” she said. “So, I just go out there with a positive attitude and work hard.”
An energy player such as Wise usually doesn’t get on the score sheet much, so the fact she led the Lady Panthers in scoring along with Holliday wasn’t lost on the sophomore forward.
“I was looking to score more,” she said. “But, I got really great passes from my teammates.”
Lange was happy to get the victory, but realizes it’s only the beginning of a long, grueling run for his club.
“We didn’t win anything but a game tonight,” he said. “We have Lampasas and Salado next.”
Liberty Hill (13-13, 1-0) will next host Lampasas on Tuesday at 6:30 p.m.