By Joseph Garcia
The No. 2 ranked Liberty Hill Lady Panthers have been on a roll this season, picking up where they left off last year after a historical run to the State Tournament with a team full of senior leaders.
Now a new crop of seniors are leading this team, including senior shortstop Paige Lafferty, who considers herself the vocal leader of the Lady Panthers.
“I usually lead with being loud and keeping everyone involved,” Lafferty said. “I am probably the loudest on the team. Also, I lead by example because actions speak louder than words. We have a plethora of leadership on this team. Every single girl leads in some way.”
Lafferty, whose favorite subject in school is ceramics class, does not just get creative with the variety of chants that can very clearly be heard from the dugout, but her artistry is just as masterful on the field.
She has produced a very solid pre-district season for Liberty Hill and has carried that output into the opening games of the District 8-3A schedule. In the district opener against Llano, Lafferty was one of three players to hit a double in the Lady Panthers’ 14-1 victory.
As a leadoff hitter, her job is to simply get on base by any means necessary to start things out for Liberty Hill’s offensive attack – she also has some pop in her bat. And as has been the case thus far, it is working.
She also has been a shining example for the younger ballplayers on the team.
“She is a great leadoff hitter, and really hits the ball with power,” said Liberty Hill Coach Charice Hankins. “She is a dedicated part of what we do and is a great example for our young players. We are really excited about what she is doing for Liberty Hill softball. She has had a great pre-season and has started district out continuing the same momentum.”
Lafferty, 17, gained a wealth of experience last season as an everyday player on the regional championship team that eventually lost in the 3A state semifinals. However, it was the coolest experience of her young life and the fact that she and the Lady Panthers were unable to advance to the finals is driving her this season.
Winning district and winning a state title are her goals for the team, she said.
“It was such an exciting experience,” Lafferty reflected. “Despite the loss, it only (makes me) want to go back even more. That was such an awesome experience. I want that feeling in my stomach again. It was indescribable, and something I know I can feel again this year. The whole community at the game and all the support we received was awesome. The whole experience was amazing.”
The Liberty Hill native will be heading to the Texas panhandle once she graduates to play softball for Clarendon College, located in Childress. The decision came over the Christmas break after maintaining contact with softball Coach Racquel Hawkins after her official visit in October of last year.
“I loved the coach and the school,” she said. “I look forward to playing for Clarendon and getting my basics out of the way.”
Speaking of basics, Lafferty and the Lady Panthers plan on sticking to them as the season progresses and the playoffs draw ever near. Lafferty believes the 2013 Lady Panthers are just as good as last year’s squad, but they are so much closer.
“We have the same drive to get to state,” Lafferty said. “We are younger, but we have good leaders to lead us. This team works hard every day and is determined to win district, make it to state, and win state. We get along very well, and have come together as a team. We support every single person, and we really love each other.”
Lafferty would not be much of a leader if she did not have high expectations for herself. She does and plans on maintaining those prospects moving forward. Her standards are to keep up her batting average, on base percentage and fielding as high as possible.
Coach Hankins said those expectations are obvious and hard to miss with her tireless work ethic.
“Paige (Lafferty) is a great senior leader on our team,” Hankins acknowledged. “She works hard, has high expectations of herself and the success of our team.”
Lafferty has the upmost confidence in the girls around her to get the job done. She takes her leadership role seriously and the chances for her team to reach the Promised Land again.