While one of the state’s girls basketball dynasties celebrated another coronation Saturday night, Liberty Hill’s players pondered how to take that next step.
On Friday, the Panthers (36-3) won a semifinal contest for the first time in six trips to the state tournament, but one day later, they couldn’t overcome a gritty Argyle squad that captured its third consecutive Class 4A state championship with a 40-30 victory inside the Alamodome.
But with three Argyle starters graduating this spring, including title-game MVP Vivian Gray, the Panthers couldn’t help but look forward to next season. Argyle has beaten Liberty Hill three times in the past two seasons, with those of wins coming at state tournaments.
“I’m happy she (Gray) is leaving,” said Sedona Prince, Liberty Hill’s 6-foot-7 junior post and a Texas Longhorns pledge. “It may give us a chance to get back here with less competition, and I know that sounds bad, but she’s given us a very hard time.”
Panthers junior forward Kandyn Faurie agreed with Prince, saying the title-game defeat only serves as the latest lesson for a program closing on a state championship.
“It’ll happen, there’s no doubt in my mind,” Faurie said. “Next year, we’ll be back. We’re growing each and every year.”
Argyle won its previous two state titles by double-digit margins, but the Eagles (37-2) couldn’t seal their 10-point victory Saturday until the waning moments. Liberty Hill pulled to within 33-30 on a hook shot by Prince with just under 2 minutes to play, but the Panthers couldn’t muster any good looks at the basket down the stretch while committing several turnovers.
Prince finished with 10 points and 13 rebounds to lead Liberty Hill while teammate Bethany Mcleod added seven points.
“They don’t make too many defensive mistakes,” said Chris Lange, Liberty Hill’s second-year coach, of the Eagles. “They sit back in their man-to-man defense. Nothing has changed. You just have to finish shots against them.”
Argyle sealed its victory by making 7 of 8 foul shots in the final 62 seconds of the game.
“We did what championship teams do; we got stops and made our free throws,” said Argyle coach Skip Townsend, who has led nine teams to UIL girls state titles, including six at Brock from 2002-11.
For most of the game, Liberty Hill matched Argyle stop for stop. Neither team topped 31 percent shooting from the floor.
Gray, who played on a club team with Prince last season, appeared uncomfortable in the paint when Prince came around. She shot just 5 of 19 from the floor while scoring a game-high 15 points and three of her shots were snuffed by Prince. The 6-1 Gray also pulled down 15 rebounds to lead all players.
“I was off my game because I was worried about getting blocked,” said Gray, who chose to sign with Fort Lewis, an NCAA Division II school, over Oklahoma State. “She (Prince) is a great player and a great shot-blocker. You have to play her tough and be physical. She played a great game.”
When Prince exited the game early in the third quarter with her third foul, Argyle quickly scored seven points to turn a 17-13 halftime advantage into an 11-point lead. After the game, Townsend said that stretch of play gave his squad the cushion it needed.
Both defenses dominated play in the first half. Argyle, which entered the game averaging 62.3 points per game, had just 17 at the break, and six of those came on a pair of three-pointers by Gabby Standifer late in the half.
But the Panthers had their own issues against a fierce Argyle defense that hasn’t allowed more than 40 points since a non-district loss to national powerhouse Mercer County (Kentucky). Liberty Hill made just 6 of 18 shots before the break and attempted just one foul shot. The Panthers’ lone three-pointer in the first half came from Faurie, who beat the first-quarter buzzer with a 30-footer.