By Joseph Garcia
WACO – All the momentum the Liberty Hill Panthers were playing with came to a halt over the weekend when they ran up against one of the top teams in the state – Kennedale.
The No. 6 ranked team in the state looked beatable at times and the Panthers did what they could to give Kennedale a fight, drawing first blood in the best-of-three series. But while the Panthers scored first, the Wildcats were the ones left standing to sweep Liberty Hill 2-0 in the Regional Quarterfinals last Saturday at Waco ISD Sports Complex.
While it was a great season overall, the playoffs are a different animal. In fact, the game of baseball is as well.
“Coach (Ryan) Revere talks about it and said it before, there are three ways you can lose (in baseball): the game can beat you, they can beat you and you can lose it,” explained Coach Mike Kristan. “The game kind of beat us up. We didn’t do anything horrible, but we just didn’t do anything real right either.”
Liberty Hill jumped out to a 1-0 lead in the top of the first inning of Game 1 with Kennedale ace, senior Brett Taylor on the mound.
With two outs, Colby Schmidt reached base on an infield single and junior first baseman Mason Baty ripped a single to center field, plating Schmidt from first to put the Panthers up 1-0.
Kennedale came back to tie Liberty Hill 1-1 in the second inning when the Wildcats scored on a Panther error. Then in the third inning they took their first lead of the series, scoring two more runs. One on a passed ball and the other on an RBI off the bat of Josh Taylor, making it 3-1.
The defensive play of Game 1 came courtesy of junior catcher Schmidt.
With one out in the fourth inning, Kennedale’s Jake Michener singled to left field. Teammate Brett Hunt then attempted to bunt his way on, but was thrown out at first by Tyler Barrows from third base. Then first baseman Baty threw a strike back to third base, which was being covered by Schmidt, who made an athletic tag on Michener, who went airborne in an attempt to avoid the tag.
The double play gave Liberty Hill the momentum they were looking for as the Panthers came back in the fifth inning with an excellent opportunity to blow the game wide open.
After Jason Reeves reached first on an error, two batters later he moved to third on a double off the bat of Tristan Heidelberg. With runners now at second and third, Barrows plated Reeves on a sacrifice to pull the Panthers within one at 3-2.
Schmidt came up to bat next and was hit by a pitch. He was followed by Baty’s at-bat, in which he drew a walk to load the bases. With two outs and the bases loaded, the Panthers were unable to knock in any more runs.
“It was 3-2 in the fifth and a pretty good ball game,” Kristan said. “Then they scored a couple here and there and we didn’t.”
Little did the Panthers know they had scored their final run in the 2013 playoffs.
Kennedale added three more runs in the bottom of the fifth and the contest ended 6-2 with the Wildcats taking Game 1.
In Game 2 on Saturday, May 18, nothing went the Panthers’ way as they were defeated by a score of 13-0.
The Wildcats moved on to the Regional Semifinals and will now face Lubbock Cooper.
“Saturday was not good,” Kristan said. “They put the ball in play, we didn’t. They scored, we didn’t and that was about it. Nothing really went our way, but we didn’t corrade anything either. The one or two things we did, we did well. Obviously they were the better team and they beat us.”
With Liberty Hill moving to Region I this year, there was seemingly stiffer competition all around in every sport.
The Lady Panthers volleyball team advanced to the Regional Quarterfinal round of the playoffs this season and were met by No. 7 ranked Springtown and lost. In similar fashion, Coach Kristan’s baseball team advanced to the Regional Quarterfinals and fell to No. 6 Kennedale.
Those two programs advanced the furthest in the playoffs than any other team sport at Liberty Hill this year.
“Region I is always real good,” Kristan explained. “There are just quality programs, like Kennedale. The Abilene schools, the Lubbock schools…they are tradition rich in a lot of different programs from baseball to football and basketball in both girls and boys sports. It’s fun. You want to play the best teams; you want to play the best competition.”