Lady Panthers wrap up perfect district season, eye deep playoff run

Senior Shelby Whitten (#3) draws a blocking foul on her drive to the rim. Whitten was a key scorer for LHHS 47-33 win over the Lady Bulldogs. (Kathy Canady Photo)

Senior Shelby Whitten (#3) draws a blocking foul on her drive to the rim. Whitten was a key scorer for LHHS 47-33 win over the Lady Bulldogs. (Kathy Canady Photo)

By Taylor Grafft

There weren’t many people around the state that expected this type of success from the Liberty Hill Lady Panther basketball team when they were filling out their pre-season rankings and writing down their predictions.

As a result, Liberty Hill entered the season with a chip on their shoulders to prove their doubters wrong.

Mission accomplished.

The Lady Panthers are currently ranked second in the latest Class 4A Texas Girls Coaches Association (TGCA) State Basketball Poll, and fourth in the latest 4A Texas Association of Basketball Coaches (TABC) State Poll.

Not that coaches polls matter much to the players or their coaches, but finishing the regular season with a 32-2 overall record and perfect 10-0 district record will certainly matter more.

The girls personally knew their potential and how good they were coming into the season, they just had to prove it to everyone else that didn’t believe them.

On Tuesday, Liberty Hill put the finishing touches on their second act and defeated archrival Burnet at home 47-33 to etch their names in history.

For their third and final act, the Lady Panthers will try to prove their skills with a long playoff run.

Exceeding expectations in the post-season is also not something foreign to this group of girls.

Last year they were lucky to finish as co-district champions, but ended up making it to the third round of the playoffs to prove they belonged.

The Lady Panthers have not enjoyed this type of season since the 2011-2012 season when Coach Matt Kirschner’s team went 31-4 in the regular season and won four playoff games. That team was also perfect in district.

Perhaps history will repeat itself and this year’s team can shape their post-season run into a similar fashion and make it to the state tournament.

The team certainly has already shown they have the leadership, chemistry and talent needed to beat any opponent on the court.

The backcourt tandem of seniors Ashlee Walker and Shelby Whitten is probably the best in Class 4A. Surrounding them are players that each play a vital role in making Coach Kirschner’s system into a well-oiled machine.

Walker, Whitten and senior Chelsea Cole have been consistent threats to score from behind the three-point line throughout the season, while freshman Kandyn Faurie and junior Megan Huppee have been consistent scorers from the low block.

Starters Bridgett House and Baylie Bevers have both proven to be vital in running Kirschner’s full-court press because of their high-motors and knack for fighting for every loose ball.

Against Burnet on Tuesday, the Lady Panthers did not have a great night shooting the ball from the field, but were still able to make life tough on their opponents, whose shooting percentage gradually decreased in each quarter.

“It wasn’t a pretty game, we didn’t shoot the ball well, but neither did (Burnet),” Kirschner said. “Our adjustments early in the game got Burnet out of sync and we changed it so that this game would be different than last game. I’m proud of the girls because they took the game plan we put in and executed to the best of their abilities (and got the win).”

The Lady Panthers found a majority of their success on offense when attacking the paint and drawing fouls.

It was also Parent Night, and the final home game for the six seniors on the roster this season.

Those six seniors are Whitten, Cole, Bevers, Bella Turek, Amanda Woodbury and Ashlee Walker.

One senior that had an exceptional night from behind the arc was Cole, who hit multiple threes in the second half to help her team pull away and secure a win.

“I was just hustling and trying to move well off the ball with my cuts throughout the game,” Cole said when asked about getting open for three consistently.

“It felt awesome to top (our regular season off) with a win over our top rival,” Cole said. ”It was a bittersweet night and I’m so grateful to have this opportunity and get this amazing record. We have a great opportunity to do something special and keep it going as long as possible.”

Last Friday, the Lady Panthers secured the district title outright by defeating Lampasas on the road 62-33. Entering into that game, Liberty Hill had already secured at least a share of the district title with the Burnet game still left to play.