Baseball Panthers win playoff berth

Liberty Hill seniors on the varsity baseball team pose before beating Lampasas 1-0 on Senior Night. Standing from left are Corey McKinsey, T.J. Hilman, Jacob Olvera, Bryce Dallmeyer, Jake Ramirez, Kyle Hester and Matt Parks. Kneeling from left are Jacob Simons, Kevin Marksbury, Shane Terry and Kolby Keith. (www.ThunderstruckPhotos.com)

By Joseph Garcia

Liberty Hill’s varsity baseball team is one step closer to a district championship, but the Panthers also made strides by already stamping their ticket to the playoffs with wins over Llano and Lampasas.

Baseball Coach Mike Kristan is a bit relieved to get over the hurdle of making the playoffs early.

“We are guaranteed a playoff spot because Lampasas, Taylor or Llano can’t catch us,” said Kristan. “So, it’s kind of nice to be able to play and have some fun.”

On Friday, April 13, the Panthers were the black cats offering bad luck to the visiting Llano Yellowjackets early in the game. Liberty Hill won handily 11-1 in five innings.

In the second inning, T.J. Hilman’s one out double put him in scoring position for Colby Schmidt, who knocked an infield single, scoring the runner from second. The Panthers added another run in the inning to make it 2-0 after Kyle Marshall singled in Schmidt.

Liberty Hill scored two more runs in the third inning before junior Jadon Durity-Boatright knocked his first homerun of the season in the fifth, increasing the Panther lead to 5-1.

The Panthers added six more runs on just two hits for the rest of the game. But it was enough for starting pitcher Jake Ramirez who gave up just one run on three hits, while striking out three in the five-inning victory.

“The consistency of our pitching keeps us in games and we’ll get a couple of scrappy hits,” Kristan said. “Our one base percentage before the game the other day was .450. That’s almost every other guy one base. That puts a lot of pressure on everybody else. We just find a way.”

On Tuesday, April 17, it was a memorable Senior Night for the Panthers as they hosted Lampasas in a pitchers’ duel.

In a 1-0 victory over Lampasas, Liberty Hill earned at least a piece of the district championship as they can finish no worse than tied for first place.

The star of the game for the Panthers was without a doubt pitcher Matt Parks who fanned 18 Lampasas Badgers while throwing a one-hitter.

“He threw a one-hitter,” Kristan said. “That’s really the only thing that saved us. Obviously we didn’t make an error, but we didn’t have many opportunities with (the way Parks pitched). We dodged a bullet, for sure.”

Aside from a dominant pitching performance, Liberty Hill won the ballgame in walk off fashion in the bottom of the eighth inning.

With T.J. Hilman on base, senior Kyle Hester hit a blooper over the Badger second baseman, bringing in the game-winning run.

Liberty Hill (8-0, 15-5-1) had a rough night at the plate, scoring only one run on three hits. But the only part that matters to Kristan is the win in a close game.

“Decent teams find ways to win,” Kristan said. “And that’s what we did tonight and that’s the plus of it.”

The Panthers’ next game will be Friday, April 20, in Burnet against the third-place Bulldogs.