Lady Panthers torch Bay City to advance to regional tournament

Senior Chelsea Cole (#10) sinks a contested shot from the left block against Bay City in the Lady Panthers’ 81-58 win over the Ladycats in the Region IV quarterfinals. (Kathy Canady Photo)

Senior Chelsea Cole (#10) sinks a contested shot from the left block against Bay City in the Lady Panthers’ 81-58 win over the Ladycats in the Region IV quarterfinals.
(Kathy Canady Photo)

By Taylor Grafft

LA GRANGE — Going into the playoffs one of the keys for this team to succeed and go far was how consistently they could shoot the ball.

When the Liberty Hill Lady Panthers basketball team hits a few three-pointers in a row, it becomes contagious and impossible to stop.

On Tuesday, the Lady Panthers caught fire from behind the arc to move past a quick Bay City team and make the regional tournament.

Backcourt tandem Ashlee Walker and Shelby Whitten had not really gone off in the first two rounds of the playoffs like Liberty Hill fans would have hoped, but on Tuesday in La Grange the two seniors left no doubt as they torched their opponents.

When coach Matt Kirschner studied the game film with his players earlier in the week, he had a feeling that his two guards would “go off” in this type of run and gun style that Bay City showed on film.

“I really felt like the guards would go and step up this night,” Kirschner said. “Our kids played so well and I’m so proud of them.”

Walker connected on five three-pointers and ended up with 21 points, while Whitten connected on four three-pointers and led all scorers with 22 points.

“It feels amazing (to get the win),” Walker said. “Last year we fell short in this exact game, the regional quarterfinals. So we made it a goal to make it past this round. This will be my first regional experience because I’ve never been in any other sport so I’m really excited and love these girls.”

To spectators it seemed like anytime the ball left either of the guards’ hands, it was destined for the bottom of the net. It was just that kind of night for Liberty Hill. If you take it, you make it.

One Bay City player in particular seemed to be the focus of the Ladycats’ offensive gameplan — senior guard Shaniya Mitchell. The senior had blazing speed and was quick in transition to push the ball up court for easy fastbreak points.

Early in the game, that speed hurt Liberty Hill as they struggled to get back on defense and keep up with the athleticism of Bay City. But as the first and second quarter went on, Mitchell started to get into foul trouble, picking up her fourth foul midway through the second quarter.

That was a huge turning point for the Lady Panthers because Mitchell did not play a single minute in the third quarter.

When Mitchell finally returned in the fourth, it took less than a minute before she picked up her fifth foul and was forced to sit out the rest of the game.

“It was huge,” Kirschner admitted. “We did such a great job. She had to sit there for several minutes in the second and all eight minutes in the third. We knew she was gonna come back in the fourth and try and take over, but Baylie (Bevers) just jumped in there and took a huge charge.”

Bay City brought in a solid gameplan on defense to dispute Liberty Hill’s flow on offense. A 3-2 zone that caused the Lady Panthers to commit several turnovers in the first and second quarter, leading to many fastbreak points.

But to the Lady Panthers credit, they settled down and started to move the ball around the perimeter at a quicker pace, and ended the first half with five total three pointers and a 34-30 halftime lead.

The absence of Bay City’s Mitchell in the third quarter really benefited Liberty Hill as they turned that four-point lead into an 11-point lead by the end of the third quarter.

Then in the fourth quarter, the snowball effect continued to plague the Ladycats as the Lady Panthers outscored their opponents 27-15, with most of those points coming from the free-throw line and from second-chance points.

Liberty Hill 68 – Columbia 57

In a very physical game in Smithville last Friday against Columbia, the Lady Panthers sparked a huge third and fourth-quarter comeback to keep their dreams and season alive.

The Lady Panthers might have been physically beaten and bruised, but they were not going to be beaten in heart or effort.

That relentless pursuit and desire helped spark a 22-7 run in the fourth quarter to defeat their opponents in the area round.

Junior Megan Huppee had one of the best fourth-quarter performances in Lady Panther history as she scored 11 points and even hit a rare three-pointer that sent the Liberty Hill supporters into hysteria.

The junior was almost speechless during the post game as she reflected on the moment and win.

“We knew we didn’t want this to be our last game,” Huppee said. “We knew we had to come out strong and work together and we did that. We knew our shots were falling in the beginning so we had to drive and draw fouls.”

Whitten also put in an outstanding fourth-quarter performance, with her best moment coming at the 3:57 mark. The senior let go of a three-pointer from the right wing and was knocked hard to the ground. The ball found the bottom of the net and Whitten also had a chance for a four-point play from the foul line, which she converted to give the Lady Panthers a 61-55 lead.

A very scary moment happened in the first quarter with 2:52 left, junior Kaylie Potts took a hard foul from behind that knocked her to the floor. The junior was unable to move for several minutes as team trainers and coaches worked on her neck and head areas.

Potts was eventually taken to the locker room and did return to the bench after halftime, but did not play for the remainder of the game. She also was on the bench for the regional quarterfinal game against Bay City, but did not record any minutes.