By Joseph Garcia
It was a shaky start to the season to say the least for the Liberty Hill Panthers’ baseball team after facing tough competition that produced a 0-8 start. But with each of those games, Liberty Hill worked and improved and over the last few competitions it has shown as the Panthers are now trending upwards with a three-game winning streak.
The Panthers got their first two wins of the season in the Elgin Tournament Feb. 28-March 2 with victories over Taylor and Marshall. On Tuesday night, they returned to Liberty Hill for the first home game of the season and treated local fans to a 3-0 win over St. Andrews on the arm of starting pitcher Kannon Prior, who tossed a complete game shutout.
“We played good defense behind (Prior) and were hitting the ball good all night,” said Liberty Hill Coach Mike Kristan. “Jason (Reeves) made a long catch and Tristan (Heidelberg) made a nice catch (in center field). So it worked out well.”
Liberty Hill (3-8) struck early in the bottom half of the first after a quick first half, beginning with Colby Schmidt drawing a walk. Austin Zamarripa then smacked a single past the St. Andrews shortstop.
After a double steal, runners were at second and third with one out when Tyler Barrows plated Schmidt from third on a sacrifice ground out, putting the Panthers up 1-0. Liberty Hill added another run after Prior helped himself out with a standup RBI double that gave the Panthers a 2-0 lead when Zamarripa crossed home plate.
Prior, who went the distance, pitched a masterful game allowing just four hits and striking out seven batters in the shutout.
St. Andrews’ best chance to score came in the fourth inning when the Crusaders’ leadoff batter reached on an error, followed by a single to center field that put runners at the corners with no outs. But the cool and calm Prior proceeded to strike out the side as his curve ball was deadly on the crisp March evening.
Prior has progressed over the first 11 games of the season and everything came to fruition Tuesday against the Crusaders. Coach Kristan said Coach Ryan Revere counted just 75 pitches Prior threw on Thursday, including a six-pitch inning in the fifth.
“We limited (Prior) his first couple of outings (this season) to 50 pitches and 70 pitches,” Kristan said. “It’s been in the works and today he was extremely efficient.”
As a team, the Panthers collected three runs on five hits and put the ball in play all night, making it tough for the Crusaders’ defense to come up with outs.
“All of our outs were hard outs,” Kristan said. “Their center fielder did a good job…then the (third baseman) makes a double play on a line drive.”
Kristan said he was pleased to give the home crowd something to cheer for heading into spring break. But the Panthers will treat baseball fans to one more home game before the break is completely over when Lago Vista comes to town for an 11 a.m. tilt on Thursday, March 14.