By Joseph Garcia
The postseason is officially underway and the Liberty Hill Lady Panthers could not be more ecstatic. This is the time of the season for which they have been waiting: the playoffs.
After completing a sweep of District 8-3A (10-0), Liberty Hill ended the regular season with a 27-2 overall record and the No. 2 ranking in the Class 3A Texas Girls Coaches Association Poll. Now after their bye in the first round, Liberty Hill is slated for a matchup of ranked teams in the Area round May 2-3.
Liberty Hill’s opponent will be the No. 17 ranked team, Iowa Park, which finished 27-4 on the season and 6-2 in District 5-3A (second place). The playoff showdown will be a best-of-three series and take place from Thursday, May 2, to Friday, May 3, at Glen Rose High School in Glen Rose.
About Iowa Park
The Lady Hawks won their bi-district round 4-1 over Springtown last week. Previously, Springtown had defeated Iowa Park in non-conference play earlier this season 4-2. The other losses for Iowa Park were to Wichita Falls Rider, and to District 5-3A champs Burkburnett and to third place Graham.
Peyton Helton, a junior, is a three-year starting pitcher for Iowa Park. Her record is 27-4 for the season. Catcher Baylee Voigt, a senior, is also a three-year starter, and one of the Lady Hawks’ leading hitters, who signed to play for Midwestern State University.
Iowa Park has advanced to the regional semifinals the last two years. In 2011, Iowa Park lost 2-1 in a series with West. Last year, they defeated Big Spring and Burleson Centennial before losing 2-1 to Kennedale.
“We know that they have a strong pitcher, and can hit the ball well,” said Liberty Hill Coach Charice Hankins. “Most teams in this part of the season are all going to be tough and Iowa Park will be a tough game.”
To prepare for the playoffs both mentally and physically, the Lady Panthers continue to keep up their energy and excitement. Their focus has been on being more aggressive at the plate, as well.
“(They have been) keeping our excitement up about the playoffs and acknowledge that our journey will continue game by game at this point,” Hankins said. “From here on out, we have to keep winning… (We are) taking nothing for granted.”
Hankins said after a 13-day layoff, they are just excited about getting back on the field and playing for a championship.
“The kids know we are tough and can win, and I am proud of what they have accomplished so far,” she said. “We know that our continued goals and continued journey will depend on our putting all the knowledge that we have gained thus far on the field against Iowa Park.”
Liberty Hill heads into Thursday’s Game 1 with sophomores Sam Junkin (21-1) on the mound and Payton Walker behind the plate. Fellow sophomore Kallen Floyd enters the postseason with a .527 batting average and 41 RBIs.
The Lady Panthers have a great mixture of young talent, such as the three sophomores, as well as a trio of seniors in Paige Lafferty, who leads the team in hits and runs (50, 40), Presley Walker (.416 batting average) and Courtney Weems, who is tied for third in RBIs (24) and has proven to be a clutch hitter.
In addition to the sophomores and seniors, Liberty Hill is laden with juniors, who have all produced throughout the season. Alyson Sulak, Lynnette Clarke, Lynsey Mitchell, Macy Kirk, Delaney Red, Baylie Bevers and pitcher Nicole Theim have all had their moments this season and will all have to contribute for the Lady Panthers to reach their goal.
They have a good feeling about it, too.
“We are just a confident group of girls,” Payton Walker said. “We’re not cocky about it. We just feel like if we play like we have played the whole season, then we have such a good chance to go back to Austin to play for that state championship. To get to state, the ball is going to bounce our way like it did last year, but this team is ready to give it all we got.”