By Joseph Garcia
Another classic battle took place last Friday night between rivals Liberty Hill and Burnet in a thrilling one-run contest.
Down 4-3 in the bottom of the fifth inning, Liberty Hill catcher Kolby Schmidt stepped up to the plate with one out. On a 2-2 pitch, he sat on a fastball and gave it a ride over the center field fence for a home run with a golf-like swing, tying the game 4-4.
With Mason Baty having reached first on a dropped fly ball and Tyler Barrows moving his courtesy runner (Tyler Vickers) to third base, the stage was set for the Panthers to take the lead. With two outs, senior Kyle Marshall showed he is clutch after drilling a single up the middle just out of the reach of a diving Burnet center fielder, scoring Vickers and giving Liberty Hill a 5-4 lead.
For the second home game in a row, the Panthers pulled together as a team and rallied from behind for a district win, this time 5-4 over Burnet, which clinched a playoff spot for Liberty Hill.
Liberty Hill improved to 7-0 in the district and 17-9 overall.
“No matter what our record is or who is playing (for us), it’s always going to be close (against Burnet). It’s like playing your brother in the back yard; you don’t want to lose to those guys,” said Liberty Hill Coach Mike Kristan. “(Playoffs) is what we expect. When you can play longer it’s a lot of fun and we’re excited.”
Liberty Hill starting pitcher Kannon Prior got out of a bases-loaded jam in the first inning with his second strikeout of the game. The Panthers then took a 2-0 lead when Schmidt hit an infield single that sent Burnet fielders into a frenzy, causing two throwing errors, on which base runners Garrett Cunningham and Tristan Heidelberg scored.
One batter later, Baty knocked in Schmidt on a sacrifice hit to give Liberty Hill an early 3-0 advantage.
In the second inning, Burnet’s Will Kyle smoked a two-run home run that bounced off and over the left field fence to make the score 3-2. Prior got out of the inning with his fourth strike out of the game.
The next inning, the Burnet bats struck again, this time it was designated hitter Blaine Shilling who sent a two-run home run over the center field fence that put the Bulldogs up 4-3 heading into the bottom of the third.
Again, Prior was able to get out of the inning with a strike out, but the Panthers had work to do.
Cody Remore came in to relieve Prior on the mound in the fourth inning and quickly recorded two strike outs. He also got out of the fifth inning, giving up just one hit.
Then the Panthers had the big fifth inning, in which they took a 5-4 lead on a Schmidt homer and a go-ahead RBI single from Marshall.
“The at-bat was great,” Kristan explained of Schmidt and Marshall’s heroics. “He fouled off pitches and more pitches, which was pretty awesome. And then we were lucky enough that he got enough of a bomb, we got a run, then Kyle (Marshall) came up and finished it off.”
Remore looked to finish off the Bulldogs, but they would not make it easy.
In the top of the sixth inning, Burnet was in prime position to take back the lead with the bases loaded on just one out. Remore then struck out one batter and then with two outs, and full count and the bases still packed, he got a Burnet batter to fly out to Spencer Pennington in left field to end the threat.
“(Remore) hasn’t pitched 50 pitches in five weeks or so,” Kristan said. “He’s been the closer and he just came in and we made that change. He competed for us.”
Liberty Hill was unable to get an insurance run in its half of the sixth, setting up another tight ending.
The Bulldogs led off the top of the seventh with a double, promoting Coach Kristan to make a pitching change and go with Barrows on the mound. After an intentional walk to set up force outs, the runners moved to second and third on a wild pitch that put Burnet in excellent position to score with no outs.
With Remore switching with Barrows, he was tasked to play third base and had one final strike to home plate left in the tank.
Burnet tried a squeeze play to bunt the tying run in, but Remore was there and after a slightly bobbled attempt, he gunned down the runner at the plate with Schmidt laying the tag and holding on to the ball to preserve the lead for Liberty Hill.
Barrows followed up with a strike out looking and a ground out to Marshall at shortstop to complete the save as the Panthers came out on top 5-4.
Coach Kristan said his team never gives in or gives up.
“I think the kids just believe they can do it,” he said. “We talk about that how there is going to be adversity and being able to adapt and adjust. Those guys are great competitors. We are going to win a lot of games just because we like to fight.”
The win guaranteed Liberty Hill one of three playoffs spots, but the Panthers still have Gatesville (Friday, April 19) and Llano on the schedule.