STAFF WRITER JENNIFER FIERRO
The two best high school girls basketball teams in District 27-4A squared off for the third time with a trip to the Class 4A state tournament on the line.
This time, the team sent home packing was dressed in Liberty Hill purple, not Burnet green.
The Lady Dawgs (31-7 overall, 8-2 district runner-up) crushed rival Liberty Hill (22-18, 9-1 district champion) 52-36 in the Class 4A Region IV final Feb. 23, a day after beating Beeville Jones 44-31 in a regional semifinal.
The Burnet girls advance to the state tournament for the first time in school history.
The win also snapped a 13-game losing streak to Liberty Hill dating back to the 2011-12 season when Burnet beat the Lady Panthers 58-48.
Next up is Sour Lake’s Hardin-Jefferson (34-4, 12-0 District 22-4A) in the first state semifinal game on Friday, March 1. Tipoff is 1:30 p.m. at the Alamodome, 100 Montana St. in San Antonio. For ticket information, call the school athletic office at (830) 756-4501 or email athletic secretary Allyson Cokendolpher at firstname.lastname@example.org. Fans are encouraged to wear green to the game to “green out” the stands.
Minutes after the win over Liberty Hill, Burnet head coach Rick Gates said he didn’t think it had sunk in enough to put into words what he felt at that moment.
“It’s just special,” he finally said. “It means a lot to me and to the girls. They worked so hard. It’s so satisfying to beat Liberty Hill to get to the state tournament. They’re a special group of young ladies who love basketball and play their hearts out.”
Both teams played to a 5-5 tie after the first quarter. Burnet senior guard Paris Brinkley took over in the second quarter with a three-point play to start.
Though the Lady Panthers didn’t trail by more than a point early in the second quarter, Burnet began to enforce its will.
After Liberty Hill trailed 10-9, the Lady Dawgs ended the period by outscoring the Lady Panthers 19-7. That included a 9-2 run in the final 2 minutes and 30 seconds of the half for a commanding 31-16 advantage at intermission.
Burnet kept the pressure on thanks to senior guard Emma Lewis, who hit back-to-back 3-pointers after nailing a trey at the horn. The last of her long-range jumpers sent Liberty Hill into a timeout with Burnet leading 37-18 with 6:29 left in the third period.
The Lady Dawgs led 41-20 to begin the fourth quarter. Though the Lady Panthers outscored Burnet 16-11 in the period, it wasn’t enough.
“We’ve been up against this team before and couldn’t close,” Gates said. “We had to continue to play hard and do things to win. The girls continued to play and give it all they have.”
Brinkley led the Lady Dawgs with 22 points, 10 of those coming from the foul line. Lewis added 12, while senior guard Hattie Blair had nine.
Before the Lady Dawgs could end the Lady Panthers’ season, they first had to beat a stubborn Beeville Jones team that had advanced to the regional semifinals by winning three playoff games by a total of eight points.
The pace favored the Lady Trojans (29-8, 10-4 District 31-4A) as they led 19-14 at the half after Burnet led 10-7 after the opening quarter.
The Lady Dawgs trimmed the deficit to 26-25 headed into the final period.
Brinkley gave Burnet a 27-26 advantage in early in the fourth period to trigger a 7-0 run. Leading 35-29, Burnet went into its stall offense for the final 93 seconds that resulted in a 9-2 run to close out the contest.
The Lady Dawgs outscored Jones 30-12 in the second half.
“I can’t believe how well the girls adjusted,” he said. “I’m so proud of them. The girls enjoyed the fast pace, getting up and down the floor.”
Against Jones, Brinkley scored 11 of her 16 points in the second half followed by Lewis with 14 and Greenwell with nine.
A community-wide spirit rally for the Lady Dawgs is 6:15 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 27, at Hill Country Fellowship, 200 Clinton Drive in Burnet. Fans can enjoy free hot dogs and more. Local businesses are encouraged to decorate their storefronts in support of the Burnet team.