By Joseph Garcia
Entering his 13th year at Liberty Hill (nine as head baseball coach), Coach Mike Kristan is encouraged that this year could be a special one.
The team got off to a good start after defeating Bourne 5-3 Tuesday night in its season opener. The Panthers (1-0) were led by a Colby Schmidt homerun. Both he and senior first baseman Bryce Dallmeyer drove in two runs a piece in the win.
Favored to win the district this year, in 2011, the Panther varsity baseball team lost to Llano in a play-in game, missing the playoffs. But it was a young team that played a majority of juniors who are now seniors and ready for a final run.
“We are excited about the kids we brought back,” Kristan said. “Sometimes when you bring back kids and you weren’t very good you aren’t very excited. But we have a good group of kids who had great summers. They are excited about it and we should do pretty well.”
Assistant Coaches Ryan Revere, in his 11th year at LHHS, and Heath Hohmann, beginning his second season, joins Kristan in the dugout.
The head coach said he’s enjoyed working with the coaches and cannot believe how time flies.
“It’s been great,” he said. “I can’t believe it’s been that long; it goes by fast. It’s been a lot of fun working with the coaches we have.”
And as for the players he has, among them are 12 seniors including: Bryce Dallmeyer (1B – Senior), Kyle Hester (OF/P – Senior), T.J. Hillman (INF – Senior), Kolby Keith (INF – Senior), Kevin Marksbury (OF – Senior), Jacob Olvera (OF – Senior), Matt Parks (P/OF/1B – Senior), Jake Ramirez (P/OF – Senior), Jacob Simons (OF/1B/Catcher – Senior), Bo Simpson (OF – Senior), Shanye Terry (2B/P – Senior) and Corey McKinzey (OF – Senior).
Kristan said the pitching’s staff looks solid with its depth, which will hopefully be to their advantage come playoff time.
“That is probably one of our strengths,” he said. “We have a lot of kids that we can run out there for two or three innings if they haven’t pitched recently. Hopefully we get to play enough playoff games where we can go two out of three so we can get a chance to use all of our arms.”
Senior pitchers Matt Parks and Jake Ramirez should prove to be an integral part of the team’s success in 2012. And all-district third baseman Kolby Keith along with second-team district outfielder and DH Jacob Olvera will be returning to the lineup as well.
One major obstacle the team dealt with last year was the absence of T.J. Hillman who underwent surgery midway through the district schedule.
While 12 seniors will be graduated after this year, another plus for Kristan is the baseball program’s bright future
“Fortunately for us we have a lot of sophomores who are pretty good so we are not going to go from a senior-heavy class to nothing next year,” he explained. “So the program is in pretty good shape and we are looking forward to it.”
The district schedule begins March 23 when Liberty Hill hosts Taylor. Coach Kristan said District 25-3A will be a gauntlet this season and it could be anyone’s title to claim.
“There are always great rivalries in our district with teams that want to beat up on each other,” he said. “The big ones are probably going to be Burnet, besides us. Llano lost a lot of players, but they are always competitive and Taylor’s coach always has them playing well.
“Salado is young, but their junior varsity was good last year,” he said. “It could really be anybody any given day. It’s going to be a battle every day.”