By Joseph Garcia
BURNET – It was not pretty to begin with, but it turned out that way for Liberty Hill once the final out was recorded against the Burnet Lady Bulldogs on a cool and breezy Friday evening.
It was cold outside and so were the bats for both teams in the District 8-3A rivalry showdown. But with Samantha Junkin on the mound for Liberty Hill, most opposing teams usually struggle to get things going anyway.
Junkin tossed a beauty for the Lady Panthers and Nicole Thiem came in and closed out the game as the duo combined to allow just one hit to Burnet. Junkin (14-1) pitched six complete innings and recorded 12 strikeouts, while Thiem added two more.
The Lady Panthers’ bats finally heated up and in the end produced seven runs off 11 hits, while forcing Burnet into six defensive errors, which resulted in a 7-0 victory for Liberty Hill.
Liberty Hill improved to 3-0 in District 8-3A and 20-2 overall.
“(Sam Junkin) was very efficient and (Nicole Thiem) comes in and just (knocks) them down,” said Liberty Hill softball Coach Charice Hankins of her 1-2 punch. “We almost brought (Thiem) in in the sixth. But what we try to do is not let anybody see Sam (Junkin) more than twice. We let her finish the sixth inning.”
Liberty Hill started the first inning off with leadoff hitter Paige Lafferty smacked a 1-2 pitch to right field. She ended up coming around to touch the plate on a single to right field by Presley Walker, giving the Lady Panthers an early 1-0 lead.
Junkin proceeded to strike out the side in the bottom half of the first and shut down any sort of Burnet offense as the came continued.
The Lady Panthers were able to add two more runs in the top of the fifth inning, beginning once again with a leadoff hit (a double) from Lafferty. Alyson Sulak followed that up with a single, which moved Lafferty to third.
Then with runners at second and third with one out, Walker stepped up to the plate again and delivered, driving in two more runs for the Lady Panthers with a single to right field. The base hit gave Liberty Hill a 3-0 advantage heading into the bottom of the fifth.
On her game all night, Junkin stuck out two more Burnet batters in the bottom half of the fifth, before the Lady Panthers’ offense exploded in the sixth inning.
With a swift swing, Junkin tagged a single between shortstop and third base to lead things off for Liberty Hill in the sixth. Courtesy runner Lynnette Clarke came in and worked her way around to third base. Three batters later, Sulak drilled a single to right field to load up the bases with just one out.
Kallen Floyd then came to the plate and it was obvious that she wanted to produce for her team with a great opportunity in front of her. After a near-eight minute at-bat in which she fouled off at least nine pitches, Floyd came through with a single that scored two more Liberty Hill runs to put the Lady Panthers up 5-0.
“I think that we were ready and excited and prepared, but that we played a little nervous (early on),” Hankins explained. “The first couple of times through the lineup we were popping the ball up and grounding out and then finally (we) started hitting the ball solid.”
The rally continued when Walker drove in her fourth run on a hard-hit single past third base. Liberty Hill’s final run of the game came when Payton Walker reached base on an error, allowing Floyd to cross home plate.
Thiem came in and blew away two Burnet batters, including the final one to end the game with Liberty Hill on tom 7-0.
“(It was) a great team effort in all three areas of the game,” Hankins said. “Pitching, offense and defense all did (their) part. (It was a) great effort and big win over the (Lady) Bulldogs.”
The Lady Panthers will host Gatesville on Thursday, March 28, with the first pitch set for 6:45 p.m.