Runnin’ Panthers complete 31-0 regular season
By BOB VARMETTE
It was big night — in a lot of ways for the Liberty Hill Runnin’ Panthers.
With a 78-48 win over the Taylor Ducks Tuesday night at Liberty Hill High School, the Panthers recorded their 31st of the season, and they marked the final victory in an undefeated District 25-4A championship.
“We’ll probably enjoy it for about a day, and then we’ll start getting ready for what’s up next,” Liberty Hill coach Barry Boren said. “It matters, it all matters. But if I think about it too much, then there’ll be pressure. I don’t want to feel that. I just want to enjoy the moment and enjoy the time with them.”
The undefeated regular season is the first in a long career for Boren, who earlier this season recorded his 600th career coaching victory.
It was the last home game for the Panthers (31-0, 10-0 District 25-4A). They celebrated with their parents during introductions prior to the game, and they also celebrated the final home game for their captain — senior Callen Mikulencak.
Mikulencak celebrated a little, too. He led four Panthers in double figures, scoring a game-high 22 points. Junior forward Trey Jenkins and sophomore post Zach Lord each added 16 points, and junior Conner Lowe scored 11 points, including three 3s.
The playoffs await the Class 4A No. 4 Panthers, but Mikulencak took a little time after the game to savor a special night, gathering with family and friends outside the main gym for nearly 30 minutes after the final buzzer.
“I’m just enjoying it while I can because we all know that not everything lasts,” Mikulencak said. “I’m just taking it one step at a time and enjoying every moment of it – my team, my coaches, all the fans and supporters, just people that were there and really guided not just me, but this team. It’s come a long way and we couldn’t have done it without every single one of them.”
Mikulencak’s 22 points were a big part of sending himself out a winner. He scored 15 in the first two quarters to keep the competitive Ducks (23-5, 8-2) at bay and lead the Panthers to a 39-31 halftime advantage.
Liberty Hill was on the verge of pulling away after outscoring Taylor 17-5 in the opening quarter. But the Ducks responded in the second quarter, getting 12 points from reserve guard Joseph Lopez, including a pair of 3s.
Taylor cut the lead to six at 41-35 when senior Cordez Maddox scored with 6:47 in the third quarter. But barely 30 seconds later, Lord hit a 3 to start a 14-7 Panthers run to the end of the quarter.
“I just wanted to get it going,” Lord said. “I just wanted to be the spark for the team, so I just had to be a leader. … We just needed to pick up our defense because our defense is our offense. We needed to get more turnovers for us, just get it and go.”
Lord scored eight points in the third quarter, scoring inside on back-to-back possessions, including in transition, as the Panthers pulled away.
Liberty Hill blew the game open in the fourth quarter, with Conner Lowe hitting two 3s and scoring eight points. Mikulencak added five points, including a 3, before taking a seat for good about midway through the final quarter as the Panthers pushed their lead to more than 25 points.
B.J. Tealer led the Ducks with 14 points and Lopez, so hot in the second quarter, finished with 12 after being held scoreless in the second half.
“We let them kind of stay in the game with us,” Boren said. “But in the third quarter, the complexion completely changed. … We just talked about some of the silly mistakes that we made, and that we wanted to take care of those mistakes.”