By Joseph Garcia
Midway through the District 8-3A schedule, the Liberty Hill Lady Panthers have learned to deal with the target on their backs and have received the best shots from every team. On March 28 against Gatesville, it was no different.
The Lady Panthers found themselves in a 0-4 hole in the bottom of the fifth inning against the Hornets as their backs were against the wall.
Liberty Hill did not score until the fifth inning, but tied the game up 4-4. With no team scoring in the seventh, the game was sent into extra innings.
In the top of the eighth inning, Liberty Hill held Gatesville scoreless. Then in the bottom of the eighth with two outs and the bases loaded, Kallen Floyd smashed a line drive into the right center field gap to bring in the winning run, completing a 5-4 victory in walk-off fashion.
“This game was a huge test, especially getting down 0-4 in the first four innings,” said Liberty Hill Coach Charice Hankins. “Our kids kept battling and hitting the ball and we wanted to get through the challenge that Gatesville gave us. They are a tough team that has speed and a solid defense, and their defense was hard to get balls through for hits. We left 11 runners on and that is too many to leave stranded, but says a lot about their defense.”
Gatesville scored two runs in the first inning and one run in the third and fifth innings. In total, the Hornets had four runs on four hits while recording four errors in the field. Liberty Hill, meanwhile, tabbed five runs on eight hits and also had four errors on the night.
In the Lady Panthers’ big fifth inning, Floyd crushed a two-run home run, giving her three runs batted in for the game.
Courtney Weems recorded a double; Paige Lafferty had two singles and scored on a passed ball in the fifth. Alyson Sulak also had two singles and a run scored. Payton Walker hit a single and Lynnette Clarke scored two runs for Liberty Hill (she was the courtesy runner for Sam Junkin).
Junkin (16-1) got the win, pitching all eight innings. Nicole Thiem was ready to go in at any moment of need, but Junkin took care of business.
With the win, Liberty Hill improved to 5-0 in district and 22-2 overall.
Keeping her players’ heads in the game at all times, Coach Hankins preaches one step at a time to her team.
“We teach and stress that every game is a 21-out battle, no matter who we play,” she said. “Out by out and run by run, we try and take care of the little things first and when we get to that seventh inning, it all adds up to us having taken care of our business.”
Thus far in district play, Brownwood and Gatesville have given Liberty Hill the biggest problems. Back on March 19, the Lady Panthers edged Brownwood for a 2-0 win and last Thursday against Gatesville it took extra innings and a great comeback to win 5-4.
Hankins said she always tells the team that those other schools are gunning for them and want revenge.
“We have to play tougher and bigger, so be ready to fight,” is what she voices to the players.
Liberty Hill will travel to Brownwood on Tuesday, April 9, and will end the regular season in Gatesville on Friday, April 19. Revenge will be at stake and Liberty Hill will be ready.
“Brownwood and Gatesville are solid softball programs and always have playoff-caliber teams,” Hankins explained. “Both of those games were tough at home, so I know when we travel to their fields, the pressure will be bigger. I am hoping that since we have seen them once this will give us a little information that will help us play them tougher at their place.”
But before the Lady Panthers travel to Brownwood on April 9, they will play their next game at home against Llano at 6:45 p.m. on Friday, April 5.