By Joseph Garcia
In her second year on varsity, Liberty Hill sophomore Payton Walker has seemingly been a steadfast fixture behind the plate for the Lady Panthers in yet another successful season.
As a freshman last season, Walker was the starting catcher for over 70 percent of Liberty Hill’s games while incumbent and senior Kyli Herman was recovering from injury. This year, she started every game for the Lady Panthers and has been an important component on a highly-talented team.
Walker, 15, maintained a .325 batting average this season and drove in 24 runs on 26 hits, while scoring 15. Her biggest contributions, however, come from behind the plate with her cat-like reflexes, quick thinking and precision arm to throw out runners.
She is also a sparkplug for her teammates.
“Payton (Walker) has worked very hard to do all the little things to become a great catcher,” said Liberty Hill Coach Charice Hankins. “She works well with our pitchers, and works hard at the plate. She is a fierce competitor and is a hard worker. She creates a lot of spirit and enthusiasm on the field and in our dugout. (It is) awesome having her on the field.”
Walker explained how this season has been “amazing” so far, not only in terms of the team’s success on the field, but off of it as well.
“We all have such an awesome sisterly bond with each other and that is really great to have on a team if you’re looking to win that gold at the end of the road,” she said. “Everyone does their job on defense and on offense, by somehow getting an RBI or sacrifice bunt, etc. The job always gets done.”
With her older sister, Presley, starting at first, Payton has cherished the last couple of seasons. Growing up playing sports with her sibling, Payton always had the nickname “Lil’ P” and Presley was “Big P.”
Now she goes by simply “P” or “P-Diddy,” but whatever the moniker, perhaps the sisterly bond Walker spoke of stems from the fact that she plays with her sister on the team. When experiencing a Liberty Hill softball game, the love can certainly be felt from afar.
“Playing high school ball with my sister for two years is something I will remember my whole life,” Walker explained. “It’s an awesome experience to have. We always keep each other up by encouraging one another and saying ‘it’s all good, we will get them next time.’ It’s pretty awesome with me catching and her playing first because we have our little codes with each other when a girl is (trying to) steal second base. It’s definitely going to be weird not having her next year because she has been such an attribute to our team.”
As one of three sophomores on the team (Kallen Floyd, Samantha Junkin), Walker has grown up and together with her fellow second-year players. They are the young nucleus of the future of the Lady Panthers, but all three are starters and significant reasons why Liberty Hill has had a successful season thus far.
The connection between a pitcher and a catcher is of the upmost importance on the softball field, and the link amid Walker and Junkin is seemingly second to none.
“We came up together as freshmen and I caught almost every game our freshman year,” Walker said. “I feel like we have built very good chemistry together. She knows I work hard for her behind the plate and I know she’s bringing it every game. We work well together and we know what each other are thinking. It’s been a lot of fun catching for our great pitchers we have had the past two years (Kourtney Bevers and Junkin) and I’m looking forward to two more great years.”
Walker said the part that is most fun about being a catcher is being a team captain on the field and getting to see every play that happens. She also said throwing runners out and diving for fly balls behind the plate is such “a thrill and never a boring moment.”
One little known fact about the Lady Panthers’ catcher is that she is a certified actress. It is a good thing too, because there is drama on nearly every pitch in the playoffs.
“When I was in fifth grade, I got my SAC card, which means I am a certified actor just like Julianna Hugh or Channing Tatum,” she joked.
Walker turns 16 years old on May 19, but while she will be legally able to get behind the wheel, it is the dream of glory that is driving her and her teammates right now. The goal of winning the state championship was right in front of them last year, and this year the Lady Panthers want to take it one step further.
“We have a long journey to go still,” Walker said. “But we all have the determination to not only get back to state, but to win state.”