Panthers split wins vs Lampasas, Burnet

Aedan Welch (#33) watches his teammate Austin Boliek (#22) make a layup against Burnet in the Panthers’ heartbreaking loss on Jan. 10. (Photo by Kathy Canady)

Aedan Welch (#33) watches his teammate Austin Boliek (#22) make a layup against Burnet in the Panthers’ heartbreaking loss on Jan. 10. (Photo by Kathy Canady)

By Taylor Grafft

The Liberty Hill Runnin’ Panthers basketball team defeated an athletic Lampasas team with solid execution by the players and great coaching on Tuesday. Last week, the team dropped a district game against fierce rival Burnet at home.

Against Burnet, the Panthers relied heavily on junior guard Callen Mikulencak to try and shoulder the load and bring Liberty Hill back from a one-point deficit at halftime. Liberty Hill couldn’t find a consistent scorer to help Mikulencak and failed to complete the comeback and lost 52-47.

In their game against Lampasas, Mikulencak was tightly guarded by the Badgers in the first half, which kept his scoring numbers down. That forced several other Panthers to step up and help the team to a 53-49 victory at the Panthers’ Den.

One of those players that stepped up big was sophomore guard Conner Lowe. Lowe hit four three-pointers in the game against Lampasas and scored a total of 25 points with 16 of those points coming in the first half.

“I’ve told the players that from here on out it’s going to be different,” said Head Coach Barry Boren. “We’ve played enough games now that the other teams know and have scouted our team’s strengths and weaknesses. We try and put the ball in the hands of Callen (Mikulencak), Tristan (Heidelberg) and Zach (Lord) a lot and teams are going to try and take that away from us. It happened against Burnet on Friday night. We worked hard (after the loss to Burnet) and had some other players answer the bell tonight and chip in.”

Coach Boren felt like the difference in the game against Lampasas was Lowe’s shooting, especially in the first half.

“Conner coming in at the beginning of the game was big,” Boren said. “(Lampasas) wasn’t even guarding him at the beginning of the game and then when they tried to guard him, Conner just got on a roll and started hitting shot after shot. He even hit some shots that were contested a bit. So it made up for Tristan and Callen not getting shots, and we wouldn’t have won without Conner and some of the other guys like Slater (Foust) and Josh (Sudekum) coming off the bench.”

Lampasas started the game fast with a 6-0 lead over Liberty Hill. That lead increased after a free throw by the Badgers put them up by 11 points with 1:57 remaining in the first quarter.

A three-pointer by Lowe and two free throws by freshman post Zach Lord helped the Panthers to cut it to single digits going into the second quarter.

To start the second quarter, Lowe jumped in front and intercepted a Lampasas pass and finished with a layup on the fast break to bring the Panthers within three with 7:20 remaining.

Lowe then hit a deep three from the right wing to tie the game at 16-all with 5:26 remaining. Lampasas responded by scoring six straight points, before Lowe took over again and scored four straight points for the Panthers to bring them within two points with 1:50 remaining in the half.

Senior guard Tristan Heidelberg gave the Panthers their first lead of the game when he hit a three from the left corner with 1:27 remaining. Lowe then was fouled on a baseline drive and hit both free throws to increase their lead to 25-22 with a minute remaining.

Lampasas scored with less than a minute remaining in the half and the Panthers took a one-point lead into the locker room.

In the third quarter, the Panthers and Badgers went back and forth with neither team being able to run away. At the three-minute mark, it looked like Liberty Hill might be able to post a big lead on the Badgers after the Panthers went on a 7-0 run. But Lampasas finished the half with an 8-0 run to take a 38-37 lead into the final quarter.

In the fourth quarter against Lampasas, the Panthers grabbed momentum after Mikulencak scored at the 4:42 mark to give the Panthers a one-point lead. From there the Badgers were unable to come back and were forced to intentionally foul. The Panthers consistently made enough free throws to give them the four-point victory over Lampasas.

Against Burnet the week before, it looked like the Panthers would be able to battle back in the fourth quarter with 1:48 remaining. Heidelberg stole the ball in transition and was fouled on the way up to the basket and hit both free throws to bring the Panthers within three points, 48-45.

The Panthers were unable to score on offense and had to intentionally foul Burnet and hope the Bulldogs missed. Burnet made four-of-six of their free throws down the stretch and the Panthers couldn’t overcome their biggest rival.