By Joseph Garcia
A direct correlation can be made between the success of Liberty Hill High School’s varsity and junior varsity teams as the younger squad of players have matched their older counterparts all season.
When the JV teams are dominating and playing well, so too do the varsity teams more often than not, and this season was no exception for the baseball and softball teams, which both wrapped up their respective district championships over the past week or so.
With an 8-0 victory over Llano on April 26, the JV baseball team put the final touches on a perfect district season. The team’s final record was 10-0 in district and 19-2 overall. That is correct, they only lost two games!
This season’s success was a feat not seen at the JV level at Liberty Hill in some time. For the first time in five years, the JV baseball Panthers went 10-0 and it was their first outright district title in at least four years.
“(This was) one of the most fun years of coaching baseball I have ever had,” admitted JV Coach Heath Hohmann. “The kids coming together for a common goal (district champs), and growing as a team, it’s been a blessing.”
Hohmann said he is unsure of how many of the players will be moved up to varsity next year, but he will always cherish the times with this particular group of players.
“The group as a whole is very, very talented and they have been a privilege to coach and be around,” he added. “I especially thank the parents for allowing us to spend this quality time with their kids. The memories are everlasting.”
As a pitcher and outfielder who will in all likelihood be moved up to varsity next season as a senior, Travis Gipson felt the team not only bonded and played good baseball, but they expanded their understanding of “America’s Pastime.”
He said the team is using the season’s success as a platform for next year.
“We had a great season,” Gipson, a junior, said. “It was a lot of fun and we won a lot of games, which is always good. I feel like everyone grew in their knowledge of the game as well. For us, (winning the district title) cemented the fact that we are the best (JV) team in District 8-3A and it set the bar for us all next year. We know that there is no team in district that should beat us.”
No matter if it was baseball or softball, if fans got to the ballpark early in Liberty Hill this season, they most certainly were witness to a JV victory.
While the boys JV baseball team had a breakthrough season, the JV softball Lady Panthers kept rolling with yet another district crown.
Matching the district record of the JV baseball team (10-0), the young Lady Panthers only lost one game all season, finishing with a 14-1 overall mark.
JV Coach Kristen Brewer felt blessed to be coaching such a talented group of girls.
“We had a great season and it was so much fun getting to coach these girls,” Brewer said. “We have a lot of talent on this team without a doubt, but I think I’m most proud of the way they challenged themselves in each game.”
Execution of plays and learning to move the runners in various ways is just one example of how the JV softball team stayed focused and motivated in many of the blowout games in which they played. Often the games were called early due to the 10-run rule.
In fact, some teams went in knowing they did not have a shot and agreed to play with five runs equaling three outs, as was the case against Lampasas in the final home game of the season. It was very important to Coach Brewer to keep her team focused.
“They were able to stay aggressive all the way through district rather than coast through,” she said. “They found ways to work on what they needed to in order to get better. And that’s what it’s all about, getting better. We are always looking for different ways to up our game. Winning the district is a great accomplishment that everyone on the team had a hand in achieving, but to play the entire season with only one loss is amazing.”
As is the case for the baseball JV team, the JV softball players are striving to land a spot on varsity next season. It will be very tough with only three seniors graduating in Paige Lafferty, Presley Walker and Courtney Weems.
Brewer said playing on the JV team is about learning to compete, which makes the entire softball program a success. Call it survival of the fiercest.
“The goal is to get these young ladies ready for varsity competition,” Brewer explained. “These ladies are very special and will go very far if they keep working hard. They will have no problem stepping into the varsity level of play in the near future.”
With the “farm teams” having success, varsity likely is, too. Such was the case this season in what appears to be burgeoning baseball and softball programs, which should be solid for some time. With a plethora of young talent abundant, the futures of both the Liberty Hill baseball and softball programs appear to be bright indeed.