By Joseph Garcia
With the District Championship and two warm-up games behind them, the Liberty Hill Panthers are ready to take their game up a notch and make a playoff run.
Liberty Hill’s opponent will be the Yoakum Bulldogs (9-3, 20-6) who are coming off a three-game series win over the Hondo Owls. The Owls took game one of the bi-district playoff 5-2, but the Bulldogs came back to win the final two games 3-2 and 9-7.
Juniors Ryan Kvinta and Keith Ratley helped the Bulldogs in a must-win Game 3 last Saturday. Down 7-1, Kvinta drilled grand slam homerun in the third inning to move the Bulldogs close. Then Ratley hit a homer in the fourth, giving Yoakum an 8-7 lead. Ratley was 3-3 for the game with a double, triple and homerun.
“They have some good athletes and they compete,” said Liberty Hill Coach Mike Kristan. “They are not going to quit. They are a solid team who kind of reminds me of us.”
The teams will play a three-game series at Cedar Creek High School in Bastrop beginning at 7 p.m. Friday, May 11.
Kristan said it was a mutual agreement to play a best of three series.
“We both wanted to do that. We all kind of talked about it and felt like that was the best chance for our teams,” said Kristan.
Yoakum will be the home team in the first game with the Panthers being the home team in the second. A coin flip will determine who the home team is in game three if necessary.
Yoakum, coached by Bobby Nicholson, is from District 28-3A and finished tied for second. As a team, the Bulldogs boast a batting average of .338 and their pitching staff has a combined ERA of 2.56.
Leading the Bulldogs in batting is Hogan Lauer with a .452 average. Lauer also leads Yoakum in On Base Percentage (OBP) with .534 and stolen bases (19).
Pitching-wise, Adam Hunter is considered Yoakum’s No. 1 arm with Timmy Blakeney and Hogan Lauer tabbed as the Bulldogs No. 2 guys. Hunter is 6-3 on the season, has an ERA of 1.59 and leads the Bulldogs in strikeouts with 60.
Liberty Hill on the other hand, as a team, has a batting average of .306 with an OBP of .404. And while the Panthers are not known as a power hitting team, they top Yoakum with six for the season compared to four for the Bulldogs.
Kolby Keith leads the Panthers with 31 hits, 22 RBI and 24 runs scored while batting .403. Bryce Dallmeyer has knocked out two homeruns for Liberty Hill and has batted in 21 runs.
But the Panthers’ bread and butter will be their pitching.
“I don’t foresee pitching being a problem,” Kristan said. “Of course if Yoakum comes out and scores 10 runs in every game we might have a problem.
Seniors Matt Parks and Jake Ramirez will start for Liberty Hill. Parks’ ERA for the season is just 1.41 and is near the top of the Central Texas strikeout list with 94. Parks almost has as many Ks (94) for the season as the entire Yoakum pitching staff (105).
Ramirez, AKA Chickenlegs, is a perfect 8-0 on the season and has an ERA of 2.13. He’s also logged the most innings for the Panthers with 52.00 and has struck out his share of batters totaling 47 for the season.
Ramirez will start Game 1 and Parks will be on the mound in Game 2 for the Panthers. Kristan said the team is anxious to get the playoffs underway in what may be a wet weekend of baseball.
“They are excited for each other,” he said. “But I don’t know if that week off helped us much. So, we’ll kind of see how they react to everything. I think we are going to practice outside and do some things just to get used to the wet.”
The final words for his team before the first pitch on Friday are the same one Kristan’s been preaching all season.
“It’s always the same thing,” Kristan said. “Play hard and have fun. That’s about it.”
Game 1 is on Friday, May 11 at 7 pm, Game 2 is Saturday, May 12 at 1 pm and Game 3 will take place 30 minutes after Game 2 ends if necessary.