Stephens’ hat trick leads Lady Panthers over Glenn
By Scott Akanewich
Emma Stephens hasn’t scored as many goals as she would’ve liked this season in her new role as a creative playmaker in the Liberty Hill midfield.
But, that doesn’t mean she still doesn’t know how to put the ball into the back of the net with pace and precision.
Stephens scored a natural hat trick in netting three consecutive second-half Liberty Hill goals in a 4-0 regular-season-closing district victory over Glenn at Panther Stadium on Friday night.
The trio of strikes gave Stephens a lucky 13 on the season a year after scoring 38 during her sophomore campaign last spring as her scores in the 57th, 69th and 79th minutes rescued the Lady Panthers from a sluggish start against the Grizzlies, who entered the contest with a 1-17-1 overall record on the season to go with an 0-12 league mark.
Liberty Hill head coach Darren Bauer credited Glenn with its approach to keeping the Lady Panthers’ high-flying attack grounded for much of the game.
“Give Glenn respect for what they did tonight,” he said. “They pressed us and we couldn’t handle it early on – they played a good game.”
At the heart of the Grizzlies’ resistance was senior goalkeeper Abby Alexander, who made several brave challenges against onrushing Liberty Hill attackers, going to ground to smother the ball before a shot could be delivered on several occasions, as time and again, the Lady Panthers were able to send through balls to the likes of Stephens, Piper Tabor and Kailey Fowler, but to no avail.
However, in the 36th minute, the Glenn defense finally cracked long enough for Mykenna Russo to get on the end of a Madi Fuller cross to open the game’s scoring and establish a 1-0 Liberty Hill lead in the process.
After the game went to halftime with that same margin, the home side came out for the second 40 minutes more determined and at the tip of the Lady Panthers’ spear was Stephens, who capped off her hat trick with a breakaway goal inside the final 60 seconds of play on a perfectly-placed shot past an outstretched Alexander before the Grizzlies keeper had a chance to thwart yet another opportunity.
Alyssa Lee picked up an assist on the evening, while backup goalkeeper Keira Garcia got the shutout for the Lady Panthers.
Liberty Hill (19-3-2, 13-1) will open the Class 5A state playoffs with a first-round game against Canyon at a yet-to-be determined time, place and date.