By Joseph Garcia
The Liberty Hill Panthers baseball team is back on the diamond for what should be another exciting season, coming on the heels of a successful year in 2012.
In 2012, Liberty Hill won the 25-3A district title with a 9-1 record, led by Coach of the Year Mike Kristan.
The team finished with a 19-9-1 mark overall and the Panthers’ district championship earned them a first-round bye, sending them into the area playoffs where they fell to Yoakum two games to one in a best-of-three series.
Kristan’s expectations for the 2013 team are simple: win and improve.
“(Our expectations) are to compete for another district championship,” said Kristan. “And (of course) to play longer in the playoffs.”
Liberty Hill said goodbye to 12 seniors: Bryce Dallmeyer, T.J. Hillman, Kyle Hester, Kolby Keith, Kevin Marksbury, Corey McKinzey, Jacob Olvera, Matt Parks, Jake Ramirez, Jacob Simons, Bo Simpson and Shane Terry.
Pitchers Ramirez and Parks shared co-MVP honors in 25-3A last season. And this season pitching will once again be the catalyst for Liberty Hill as the Panthers look to repeat as district champions, this time in 8-3A.
The opening-day lineup vs. No. 2 ranked Boerne were Kannon Prior P, Colby Schmidt C, Tyler Barrows 1B, Austin Zamarripa 2B, Kyle Marshall SS, Cody Remore 3B, Tyler Cannon LF, Spencer Pennington CF, Jake Stalder RF and Mason Baty DH.
Tuesday night was the Panthers’ season opener and they couldn’t have started with tougher opponent in the No. 2 ranked Boerne Greyhouds.
Liberty Hill, however, put up a good showing with Prior striking out six batters in five innings of work. The Liberty Hill bats also were alive, smacking seven base hits to Boerne’s 11. However, the difference in the game was that the Greyhouds converted their hits into runs to defeat the Panthers 6-1.
Remore had the Panthers’ only RBI and went 2-for-3 with two singles.
In addition to Prior, who showed plenty of promise against Boerne, the pitching rotation for the Panthers this season will consist of Remore, Stalder, Dane Rumley, Stephen Greenless and Chris Grumbles. And a few of the bats to watch out for this season include Kyle Marshall, Tyler Barrow, Colby Schmidt and Mason Baty.
Based on the scrimmages leading up to the season opener, the Panthers seem to be heading in the right direction to repeat as district champs. In scrimmages against Rockdale, Manor, Rouse and Marble Falls, “Pitching has been good and we have been putting the ball in play,” Kristan said.
The roster is not complete, however, as Coach Kristan is still waiting for a few players who are still in basketball right now, including Tristan Heidelberg, Tyler Vickers and Marshall Brown.
Coach Kristan said there are three teams he is keeping an eye on this season in district. Burnet, Brownwood and Gatesville all figure to be in the running with Liberty Hill for a district title.
“Burnet because of good pitching, Brownwood has one really good pitcher (Scott Kinzler) and Gatesville is traditionally good,” he said.
Liberty Hill opens district play against Brownwood on Tuesday, March 19, and will likely see Kinzler on the mound, barring any setbacks.
The Panthers’ next series of tests, however, will come this weekend when they compete in the Marble Falls Tournament Feb. 21-23 in the first of three scheduled tournaments on the season (Elgin Feb 28-March 2 and Llano March 7-9).
The Panthers will finally get to return to the friendly confines of their home field on March 5, when they host Saint Andrews for a 7 p.m. first pitch time.