By Paul Livengood
SAN ANTONIO – “One more,” the crowd chanted as the Lady Panthers held up one finger.
It’s one phrase, two words, and seven letters that has epitomized the Liberty Hill Lady Panthers’ season since it started in November. Take control of one more play, no matter the outcome of the previous ones. Shoot one more shot, even if the last one didn’t go in. Get one more rebound than your opponent. Now the Lady Panthers have “one more” game.
“It’s something I’ve been saying since I started coaching,” said Head Coach Chris Lange said. “Every possession, if it’s not perfect, then let’s do it again. One more. It’s all about working that one extra rep, that one extra possession, whatever it takes to get the job done. I think the girls kind of bit off on it a little and that’s where we’re at.”
Liberty Hill defeated Godley 49-45 in the UIL state tournament semi-final Friday. The Lady Panthers won themselves a second date this season with Argyle in the 4A state championship game. Argyle beat Liberty Hill 26-34 in the Jack Frost tournament championship earlier this season.
Argyle defeated Wharton 71-31 in its state semi-final. Liberty Hill will tip-off against the Lady Eagles at 7 p.m. Saturday at the Alamodome in San Antonio.
“(Argyle) was a different team before,” Lange said. “Some of (the Lady Panthers) have played them before, we played them earlier in the year and lost by eight. It’s a chance to play.”
For the third straight game, the Lady Panthers had their backs against the wall. Three times over, they answered the call of adversity. Liberty Hill trailed Godley 45-38 with 2:11 left in the fourth quarter. Godley senior guard Haley Robertson just hit back-to-back three pointers, and Liberty Hill’s odds of winning were becoming slimmer and slimmer as each second ticked off the clock. Robertson hit four out of five threes on the night, scoring a team-high 14 points.
Liberty Hill’s Kandyn Faurie then took control of the final two minutes. Faurie drained a wide open three-pointer from the top of the key, hit a baseline layup on the following possession, and then recorded back-to-back steals in the full court press that produced two Sedona Prince free throws. Liberty Hill swung the tide in 60 seconds and tied the game at 45-45.
Prince led all scorers with 17 points, and added 16 rebounds as well, averaging a double-double on the season.
Faurie scored an and-one layup out of a timeout, but missed the free throw. Liberty Hill led with under a minute to go—the first lead since the score was 24-23 in the third quarter. Faurie finished with 16 points, five rebounds, and five steals.
Bethany McLeod issued the dagger with her two made free throws in a one-and-one situation, extended the Lady Panthers lead to 49-45, and more importantly, forced a two-possession game with 20 seconds left.
Godley gave Liberty Hill everything it had: outrebounded Liberty Hill 38 to 33, made a better percentage from the field (37.2 percent versus 34.5 percent), and made more threes (eight for Godley and five for Liberty Hill). But the fight and will to win gave the Lady Panthers the edge.
This is the same team that came back from 11 points down in the last round against Madisonville. The Liberty Hill Lady Panthers simply refuse to lose and never say die. The team will not give up on one another and the comeback wins root much deeper than the five that are on the floor at one time.
“Bailey Grant, Gracie Whitten, Brittany Bramhall, Michaela De La Houssaye, Makinley Browder, Carly Cole—they play throughout the year, but down the stretch they’ve had to come take a role on the bench and be positive,” Lange said. “In practice, they have to try and run the other team’s defense, the other team’s offense, and it’s a credit to their families, the kids as individuals, accepting the role and being positive about it.”
Browder was recognized by Lange with the privilege of sitting with him, McLeod and senior guard Andrea House at the post-game press conference.
“It makes me feel so good because I feel like I contributed,” Browder said. “I try and do everything in my power to prepare them for each and every game. This one was really important, and we worked all week really, really hard on this defense and offense. Seeing it all come together and work is amazing.”
With one hurdle left to climb, there is “one more” thing left to do: win state. The girls are ready for the challenge and House said it best after making the first state title game in her career.
“I’m very excited to come out and whoop em,” House said about the rematch with Argyle.
Argyle is not going to fall easily. The Lady Eagles, led by Vivian Gray, kicked Liberty Hill out of the playoffs last season, sending the Lady Panthers packing in the 2016 state semi-final 43-32.
“Vivian is one heck of a player,” Lange said. “You can’t leave her alone. You can’t give her space. She’s an excellent player. I have a few of those myself. But, dealing with Argyle, they are a very disciplined team. They know their game plan. They haven’t changed and I don’t think it’s changed from last year. They know exactly what they will do and how they’re going to do it — that is what makes them dangerous. They have played with each other for a while and they are very well coached.”
If House gets what she wants, however, then Liberty Hill will come home with the program’s first ever state championship. Only one more game awaits.