By Joseph Garcia
It was spring break for the Liberty Hill Panthers, but they hardly gave a break to visiting Lago Vista on Thursday, March 14, when the Vikings came to town for a 3A vs. 2A tilt that began in the morning and ended in the afternoon.
The first inning was telling of how the entire ballgame went as starting pitcher Kannon Prior struck out the side in the top half and in the bottom half the Panthers batted around, scoring eight runs on seven hits.
Liberty Hill (10-9) had its bats going all day, totaling 20 hits in a 19-2 blowout of Lago Vista, vaulting the team over .500 for the first time all season. The Panthers also split a double header with St. Andrews the following Saturday (8-4, 5-2).
“I was pleased and they came ready to play,” said Liberty Hill Coach Mike Kristan. “We still played baseball we made good defensive plays…I thought we ran the bases well. We didn’t do anything poorly and we didn’t regress, which is a plus especially after a couple of days off.”
Prior made quick work on the Vikings in the second inning as well, forcing batters to pop out, fly out and ground out subsequently for a 1-2-3 inning.
The Panthers added another run in the bottom of the second on an unconventional sacrifice strike out when the Lago Vista catcher had to throw Jason Reeves out at first, giving Kyle Marshall the opportunity to score.
After two, Liberty Hill held a 9-0 lead.
Replacing Prior, who allowed no hits, no runs and struck out three, in the third inning was junior Stephen Greenless. Greenless quickly got out of the top of the third, striking out two batters in the process.
Then came the longest half inning of the game when the Panthers, again, batted around. But this time 12 batters came up to the plate.
Junior Garrett Cunningham got things started with a single and made it safely to second on a misplay by the Lago Vista right fielder. Tyler Vickers moved Cunningham to third with a double down the right field line. Dane Rumley knocked in Cunningham with a single to left field and a sacrifice RBI by Tyler Cannon made the score 11-0.
After an infield single from Prior, Marshall smacked a single of his own to center field, giving the Panthers a 12-0 advantage.
Still with just one out in the inning, Jake Stalder drove in a run with a double, followed by an RBI single past the shortstop off the bat of Greenless. Then after Tristan Heidelberg drew a walk to load the bases, Cunningham once again came to bat and knocked in a run with a sacrifice fly RBI.
Vickers came up to bat for the second time in the third inning and hit his second double of the game, putting Liberty Hill up 16-0.
Coach Kristan said he was very happy with his team’s hitting of late.
“Our effort’s been pretty good as has our approach at the plate,” Kristan said. “Guys were coming off the bench and hitting it to right field like we asked. Tyler Vickers (hit well), (Tristan) Heidelberg hit it hard to center and when we had the opportunity, we turned on (pitches) and hit it to the wall to left. Coach (Heath) Hohmann’s done a good job with them.”
Lago Vista scored its only runs of the game in the fourth, but the Panthers answered right back in their half of the inning with three runs on four hits for their final scores of the game.
Thursday’s win was the Panthers’ ninth in a row, before extending their streak to 10 in Game 1 against St. Andrews on Saturday. Coach Kristan said the team stuck together through the tough 0-8 start and like each other, which is a plus.
“When you’re winning you just ride it and don’t question it,” he explained. “The kids seem to have it figured out. We’ve averaged over 10 runs a game for five or six games. Teams are starting district and are not throwing their No. 1 (pitchers), but we are not giving up a lot of runs while not throwing our No. 1’s either, so we are taking advantage of it.
“Even when we were losing, we lost 10-8, 6-5. We weren’t getting blown out, games were close and we were scoring runs. It just happens to be now that we are shutting people down a little more and scoring runs,” Kristan said.
Every single varsity player contributed in Thursday’s big win. The three pitchers (Prior, Greenless and Cody Remore) threw a combined three-hitter, while fanning six batters.
“A lot of kids are contributing with base running, defense, getting on base,” Kristan said of the entire team’s contributions. “So when you’ve got 18 or 19 kids willing to do that for each other, it makes that exciting.”
Liberty Hill travels to Burnet on Friday, March 22, with the first pitch set for 7 p.m. for its second District 8-3A battle of the season.