By Joseph Garcia
The regular season is finished and as was their goal, the Liberty Hill Lady Panthers ended as undefeated (10-0) District 8-3A Champions.
Now, the much-anticipated second season has arrived for the Lady Panthers – the playoffs. This is what Liberty Hill has been preparing for since softball camp. The postseason is where the Lady Panthers pictured themselves all season long and they plan on sticking around for a while.
“We are staying focused and working hard at practice,” said senior leader Presley Walker. “We are (also) having fun and we are planning on continuing that fun in a long playoff run.”
Liberty Hill put the finishing touches on its district title with an 8-1 victory over Gatesville on Friday, April 19. The win gave the Lady Panthers sole possession of the district crown; while the Hornets finished second in the district with an 8-2 record (Gatesville’s only two district losses were to Liberty Hill).
In the regular season finale, Kallen Floyd crushed her seventh home run of the season after a 3-for-4 day at the plate that included four RBIs. Lynsey Mitchell added a double and two RBIs and Delaney Red went 3-for-3 at the plate with three singles as Samantha Junkin, who recorded four strikeouts, got her 21st win of the season.
Liberty Hill finished the regular season with a 27-2 overall record, while remaining perfect (10-0) in District 8-3A.
By winning the district, Liberty Hill earned a first round bye and will not play its first playoff game until Saturday, May 4, against the winner of Iowa Park and either Castleberry or Springtown. But the Lady Panthers will play a warm up game at 6:30 p.m. Friday, April 26, at Rogers.
The Lady Panthers, ranked No. 2, are pitted in a region (Region I) with four other ranked schools in the Texas Girls Coaches Association Top 25.
Kennedale is ranked No. 3 and hails from District 6, Burkburnett is No. 8 and from District 5, Andrews is the 12th ranked team and is from District 2 and Iowa Park, Liberty Hill’s possible first opponent, is ranked No. 16 and represents District 5 as well.
“Region I will be very tough,” said Liberty Hill Coach Charice Hankins. “Kids will stay focused and prepare as they are fighting to continue the journey.”
If Liberty Hill’s regular season stats say anything, the team should indeed be prepared.
In addition to Junkin’s 1.33 ERA and 165 strike outs, the Liberty Hill bats will likely be ready to go, too.
As a team through 29 games, the Lady Panthers are batting .362, have scored 255 runs off 313 hits.
Sophomore Kallen Floyd leads the team with a .527 batting average, 41 RBIs and seven home runs. Senior Paige Lafferty owns a .446 average and led the team with 50 hits, including one home run, and 40 runs scored.
Presley Walker and Alyson Sulak are also both batting over .400 with averages of .416 and .424, respectively.
“I am so excited for playoffs right now. It is all I can think about and the team feels the same way,” Walker said. “We are very excited and confident in our abilities. Our minds are set on getting back to state and doing anything we can to aid that goal.”
Liberty Hill’s journey begins on May 4 and the players hope they are not done until late May or early June.
The Lady Panthers will be working by a new motto for these playoffs, which they and their fans will be wearing on T-shirts. “Love Purple, Live Gold,” will be the battle cry for Liberty Hill.
“We have to be proud of our team and work hard together to get the ultimate goal in the end, which is the gold at the state championship,” expressed Walker.