By Taylor Grafft
The Liberty Hill Lady Panthers Softball team is ready to step out on their brand new softball field and play their hearts out this season.
Their goals and expectations will be lofty, but not impossible to attain. Those goals remain to get back to the state tournament, which the team achieved in 2012, and win district again. Beyond that it’s business as usual.
Coach Charice Hankins, in her 16th season as head coach of the Liberty Hill softball team, knows her players on the roster have what it takes to achieve those goals because some of them have already got a taste of them. The juniors on this year’s team were freshmen when the team got to the state tournament, so the experience and drive to get back will certainly be there and keep the players hungry for success.
Last season was disappointing for the players, according to Coach Hankins, because the team exited in the second round of the postseason. One of Liberty Hill’s strengths in recent years has been their hitting. This year’s team also has a roster that is filled with consistent hitters and the message remains the same—be aggressive at the plate and don’t leave runners on board.
Coach Hankins returns nine players this season after losing three seniors. She is also looking to fill some important spots on the roster after losing her shortstop, first baseman and an outfielder to graduation.
The team started after-school practices last week and benefitted from some nice weather. In those after-school practices, the players have been very competitive and are competing for starting positions.
“It has been really exciting this year because the kids have been working really hard and they’re all good kids,” said Coach Hankins. “The level of competition has been exciting for me to watch.”
The team started practicing in September. They came out once a week and worked on basic fundamentals and training. Once November and December came around, the team started practicing two times a week during the athletic period.
Some of the decisions for the starting positions and roster spots on varsity and junior varsity will not be made until basketball season is over, Hankins said.
“We have about six or seven kids coming from the basketball team,” Coach Hankins said. “We want to give everyone that is interested in playing a fair shot and opportunity, so we won’t make final decisions until those players get here.”
The softball team has had a lot of success in the last four seasons with Coach Hankins, resulting in four consecutive district titles. Because of that success in district, coaches and players feel like they have a target on their backs and that they will get everyone’s best game.
The team also has a tough schedule this season that will surely test them mentally and physically, but Coach Hankins hopes that a tough schedule will help the players improve and work hard towards their goals.
“We don’t take teams or anybody lightly,” Coach Hankins said. “We are playing teams like Georgetown and Austin High and Pflugerville, so the players understand that winning takes hard work. To win district and get to the state tournament takes hard work.”
The Lady Panthers will host their first tournament this season and have some good schools that will travel to Liberty Hill. Abilene Wylie will be one of the teams featured in the tournament.
After going undefeated in district last season, the Lady Panthers know that each team in their district will be looking for revenge. Burnet and Llano will present a unique challenge for Liberty Hill because of their quickness and rosters that feature a lot of lefties.
Brownwood and Gatesville will be tough opponents again this season after always playing close games with Liberty Hill in previous years. Lampasas, whose coach is in her second season, is looking to continue to rebuild the softball program and has been highly regarded by her peers as a coach who is capable.
This season will be successful for the Lady Panthers if they can continue to be a strong hitting team and have consistency from their pitchers. Coach Hankins says that in order to win games you have to have success in two out of three important categories—pitching, offense and defense.
“We’re a team that doesn’t strike out a lot,” Coach Hankins said. “We’re really good at getting the bat on the ball. Our pitchers do a really good job of getting batters to pop up.”
This year the team’s mottos will be “Go Hard, Bleed Purple, Win Gold” and “Work works”, which means if you work hard, you’ll have success and your hard work will work and pay off.
The first opportunity to see the Liberty Hill 2014 Softball Lady Panthers at work will be Jan. 28 when they take on Del Valle in the new Liberty Hill softball stadium. Varsity plays at 6:45 p.m. and Junior Varsity plays at 5 p.m.