Lady Panthers outlast La Vernia

By Joseph Garcia

SAN MARCOS – Veteran pitcher and postseason virtuoso Kourtney Bevers did not have the kind of start she was hoping for in Liberty Hill’s area playoff game versus La Vernia Thursday. But the Lady Panthers’ concerns were assuaged with the help of freshman Samantha Junkin’s arm.

Making her high school playoff debut, Junkin (10-5-1) stepped on the mound for Liberty Hill in the fourth inning. And with the help of the Lady Panthers’ bats on offense, she led Liberty Hill to a come-from-behind 10-9 victory in a one-game playoff over the Lady Bears.

“Sam came in and did a great job,” said Liberty Hill Coach Charice Hankins. “For a freshman coming in and pitching four innings, she did a good job.”

With Liberty Hill (9-1, 22-8) the home team, La Vernia batted first and quickly took a 1-0 lead on an RBI double hit by Jo Jo Sturn to the center field wall.

Bevers would get out of the inning with a pop up and a strike out. She also pitched very efficient in the second inning, facing just three La Vernia batters and recording another strikeout.

But in the top of the third inning, the Lady Bears began with a single and added to their total with a two-run home run over the right-center field wall, smacked off the bat of leadoff hitter Sage Martinez.

La Vernia added another run in the inning to take a 4-0 lead into the bottom of the third.

Liberty Hill’s offense came around in its half of the inning and was sparked by a leadoff double by Lorrie Potts down the left field line. Potts came around to score on a throwing error by La Vernia catcher Sturm to put the Lady Panthers on the board 4-1.

Then after Paige Lafferty drew a walk, back-to-back doubles by senior Kendyl Yandrisovitz and freshman Kallen Floyd closed the La Vernia lead 4-3.

Junkin relieved Bevers in the top of the fourth inning and immediately got the first two batters out. However, three-straight hits, including a double increased the Lady Bears’ lead 6-3.

But the Lady Panthers answered back, tying the game 6-6 in the bottom of the fourth beginning with a Courtney Weems RBI double that scored courtesy runner Payton Walker from first base.

Liberty Hill got RBI singles from Kyli Herman and Yankrisovitz to round out the inning, tying the game 6-6.

Junkin followed with a 1-2-3 inning before Liberty Hill’s bats gave her the lead to work with, scoring four runs in the bottom of the fifth.

Bevers led the inning with a standup double and took third on a bad relay throw. The senior, playing first base, scored on a wild pitch to give Liberty Hill its first lead of the game at 7-6.

Three-straight bloop singles that fell in front of the outfielders ensued, loading the bases for Herman who was hit by a pitch, bringing in a run for an 8-6 Liberty Hill advantage.

The Lady Panthers scored their final runs of the game the next batter when Lafferty ripped a single on the ground to left-center field, scoring two runs to make it 10-6.

Coach Hankins said it was just a matter of time until the bats came around.

“That’s what we do,” she said. “We are going to hit our way out. That’s the only way I think we can do it. I think our team is a pretty good hitting team and I don’t resort to (bunts and small ball) unless we have to.”

La Vernia could have easily stormed back after an RBI triple started the sixth inning, making the score 10-7. But Potts, in left field, saved at least one if not two runs on a difficult sliding catch that could have made ESPN’s Top 10 of the day.

“They have speed (in the outfield),” Hankins said. “We teach our outfielders to go hard and if they can make the catch, make it or just try to keep it to a single and keep it in front of you. (Lorrie) did a great job.”

Things did get a little hairy for Junkin and the Lady Panthers in the final frame after two runs were scored. But the freshman stuck to her guns and got the final batter to line out, earning her first playoff win and Liberty Hill a 10-9 victory.

Junkin said she is always ready to step in at any moment and relies on her team to make plays behind her.

“I’m always ready,” she said. “So whenever they need me I just (try to) shut them down and do whatever I can. I trust my team and I’m going to do what I can to get (batters) to ground out or pop up. Strikeouts don’t really matter to me anymore. I trust my team and (batters) are going to hit it to them and they’re going to make the plays. It (feels) amazing. (This is my) first playoff win and it’s pretty crazy.”

Liberty Hill will move on to play Fredericksburg in the Regional Quarterfinal game on Friday, May 11, at 7 p.m. at Marble Falls High School.