The LCHS Panthers’ third try was a charm. The boys team defeated Washington County, 78-65, on Saturday for the Region 3-AAA championship.
It was the third meeting for the teams, who split wins earlier in the season. The Liberty boys won the first game, but lost to WACO the second time around.
The third battle, for the region title, was on neutral ground. According to Panther coach Willie Graham, the boys played a complete game.
"I think the pace was a little more to our liking this time," he said.
The coach said WACO forced his team out of its rhythm offensively and defensively in their second-match loss.
"They controlled the pace and they slowed us down and we were impatient," he said. "This time, pretty much after the first quarter, we were able to get the pace to more of a place that we like. And the kids did a better job of executing."
Four Panthers hit double digits with Tennessee commit Jordan McRae in the lead. He scored 25 points while Miami-bound Rion Brown added 24. Greg Richardson chipped in 15 and Tucory Rhodes had 11.The victory also avenged the boys loss last year to WACO, who took the region trophy by defeating the Panthers.
The win means the boys will host the first round of the class AAA state playoffs. They tip off at 6 p.m. Friday against Shaw.
The last time the teams faced each other was in the second round of the 2007-08 state playoffs, and the Liberty boys eked out a 55-54 victory.
"There are going to be physical. They have a lot of good athletes," Graham said of his squad’s opponent. "They’ll jump, they’ll box out. They’ll keep it simple and they’ll play hard, so we have to be prepared mentally to do the same. They will probably try and slow us down again and we’ll have to try and get the pace to where we like it and just play defense."
In 2007-08, the boys made it to the Elite Eight before they were eliminated. Last season, the Panthers made the Sweet 16 before they were edged out by Westover High School.
The coach said he has reminded his players the tough games are coming up.
"Every team in this is a good team and is capable of beating pretty much any other team in it," Graham said. "We have the advantage because we are home, so that is good for us, but if we don’t play it’s not going to matter. You can get beat at home just as well as you can on the road if you don’t perform."