LHHS girls advance to round 3

The Lady Panthers defeated Mexia Feb. 17 and advance to the next round in the playoffs where they will face Navasota on Feb. 21 in Cameron. (Alex Rubio Photo)

The Lady Panthers defeated Mexia Feb. 17 and advance to the next round in the playoffs where they will face Navasota on Feb. 21 in Cameron. (Alex Rubio Photo)

By Paul Livengood

CAMERON – The Lady Panthers played its first tough competition in over a month’s time, dating back to the 66-43 loss against Kennedale in the Whataburger Tournament Championship. In the 11 games since then, the Lady Panthers have won by an average margin of 51 points per game.

“It’s been a while since we’ve had that (competition),” Head Coach Chris 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. It’s going to help us towards Monday or Tuesday night.”

Liberty Hill held on against Mexia, slighting the Lady Black Cats 50-41. As a result, Liberty Hill advances to the next round and tips off against Navasota at 8 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 21, at Cameron Yoe High School. Navasota beat Fairfield 51-43, in the third round.

From the opening tip, Friday’s game had a different atmosphere. Both schools’ crowds were loud and the players played an extremely fast paced game. The Lady Panthers started the game on a 16-3 run, powered by 10 points from junior forward Kandyn Faurie in that span. Liberty Hill took advantage of early mistakes from Mexia and converted them into fast break layups.

Camryn Smith, junior forward, turned the tide at the end of the first quarter with four points and a steal, sparking Mexia’s 5-0 run. Instead of laying down and dying at 16-3 like most Liberty Hill opponents have, Mexia showed fight and brought the first quarter total to an eight-point Panther lead.

Faurie started the second quarter by extending the Panthers’ lead with an and-one layup, converted the free throw, and got another fast break layup on the following possession. The Lady Panthers and Lady Black Cats traded baskets all quarter long, including the first three-pointer of the game made by Mexia senior forward Jashima Smith from the left wing.

The Lady Black Cats could not score in the paint to save any of their nine lives in the first half. Sedona Prince, junior center, changed the game with her inside presence and rim protecting. Prince recorded four blocks in the first half, and Smith’s three in the final minute of the first half would prove to be more important than the original moment led on.

“Even though she had a low night in scoring, (Prince) did a heck of a job protecting the paint and rebounding the ball,” Lange said. “(Prince) allows us to play aggressive. We were playing a little less aggressive there towards the end, and in the timeout she says, ‘hey, go get them. I got your back.’ When she says that, everybody goes to work and we did a better job of putting some more pressure on.”

Smith hit another three in the Lady Black Cats first possession of the third quarter, and it gave the Mexia players the confidence to start shooting from outside. Prince was not letting anyone score inside, so outside shooting was the last resort.

Liberty Hill reached as high as a 17-point lead in the third quarter, and then Mexia got desperate with the game getting out of hand. De’modesty Williams, Mexia junior guard, shot a three from three to five feet behind the three-point line early in the shot clock. Williams missed the shot, but took the shot with so much confidence that the very next possession did the exact same thing—this time she made the shot. For the third straight possession, Mexia fired up a hail mary three—this time at the hands of senior guard Soroya Hollie—and for the second time in those three possessions, the shot fell.

Mexia’s back-to-back threes ended the third quarter and the Lady Panthers lead was dwindled back down to 11. Yes, Liberty Hill led by double digits, but the momentum had completely swung the Lady Black Cats way entering the fourth quarter.

Mexia carried that wave into the fourth quarter, making another three on the first possession. For the first time since the end of the first quarter, Liberty Hill led by single digits. The Lady Panthers would soon be in trouble. Mexia averages more points in the fourth quarter (17.7) than any of the other three (11.1 in first, 10.6 in second, and 8.8 in third).

“(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 coach) kept plugging them in and he does a good job at keeping them under control in those tough situations.”

Kayse Bevers, junior guard, answered back with a fast break layup, but the Hollie fired back on the next possession with a step back 18-foot jump shot that banked off the glass and in.

Once again, Hollie sparked another scoring run. Hollie’s shot began a 9-0 Mexia run that included Smith’s third three-pointer of the game and back-to-back Williams steals. Liberty Hill now led by five points with two minutes remaining. The next two plays decided the game.

Madeline Cheney, senior guard, was found streaking up court on a full court pass over the top of the defense and finished the bucket on the other end. Liberty Hill went back up by seven. Hollie blew an open layup attempt on the ensuing drive, then Prince corralled the rebound and was fouled.

Liberty Hill’s next possession was what laid the dagger in the Lady Black Cats hearts. The Lady Panthers secured an offensive rebound, Lange used one of his timeouts, and drew up the last bucket of the game. Cheney lobbed the ball into Prince on the low block, and the junior center finished a layup off the glass to give Liberty Hill the 50-41 advantage.

The Lady Panthers successfully escaped the late surge from the Lady Black Cats. Lange praised the fight of the Mexia players and appreciated the tough fought win by his team. He added that there is a lot of work to be done because the journey will only become more difficult.

Navasota is a district title winner as well, holding a 33-4 overall record and 7-0 in its district. The Lady Rattlers are ranked 20th in 4A by MaxPreps.com, so the Lady Panthers should have their hands full.