By Taylor Grafft
Few can argue that there is a more natural leader at Liberty Hill than junior Payton Walker when she steps on the field to compete. The Liberty Hill Lady Panther Softball catcher pours her heart and soul into every game and every play.
Perhaps the best example of that passion came on March 14, in the Lady Panthers’ district opener against Llano at home. In the top of the fifth inning, Walker made an acrobatic, diving catch behind home plate that got the Panther crowd cheering and on their feet. Those are plays that cause her teammates and coaches to take notice.
“Those are the type of plays that get me pumped up in games,” said Walker. “Those are the plays I love and get me ready to hit and compete.”
Walker, who moved to Liberty Hill when she was three years old, could not wait to play softball at a young age when she saw her sister Presley playing T-ball. She even convinced her parents to sign her up early so she could play with her sister.
It was that drive and desire to compete and Walker’s strong work ethic that helped her become successful behind the plate and with the bat, eventually leading to a spot on the varsity softball team her freshman year.
Last season, Walker took over the starting catcher role after her teammate went down with an injury. Before, she was playing in the outfield because of her strong arm and athletic ability. It also gave her an opportunity to play with her sister, who played first base for Walker’s freshman and sophomore years.
This season, Walker has embraced her leadership role on the team and makes sure her teammates are always positive and pumped up during games. One of the ways that Walker pumps up her teammates is during pre-game warm-ups. Walker, and teammate Lynsey Mitchell, have come up with chants for each member of the team, which they shout from the dugout while they’re up to bat. They’ve also made up fun routines and handshakes for the team to participate in before the game starts.
Sometimes Walker gets a little too excited and pumped up during games and loses her voice from cheering so much. That happened on March 21 against the Panthers’ biggest rival Burnet. But Walker doesn’t mind losing her voice and showing that passion because it’s what she was born to do — lead.
Walker’s impact on the team doesn’t just come down to being the team motivator or cheerleader, she is also one of the best hitters. This season Walker has one of the highest averages and has also been productive in driving runs in.
On March 18 against Brownwood, Walker nearly missed hitting for the cycle when she finished with a single, two doubles, a triple and three RBIs.
She has also formed a fantastic relationship on and off the field with ace pitcher Sam Junkin. The two have been playing together on varsity since they were freshmen and also plan to play together in a select softball league this summer with teammate Nicole Thiem.
Walker knows that if she wants to play sports at the next level she has to practice and improve every day. She stays after practice a little longer and takes her time to warm up before a game. Walker’s father, who played semi-professional baseball in the Dallas area and has coached her since the first grade, also helps her improve by going out to the practice fields. The two practice hitting and her father gives her tips and advice.
“Sometimes my teammates get a little mad at me because I take so long to warm up before games,” Walker said. “But I want to make sure I feel good and I’m 100 percent because I want to play the best I can for the team. Softball has taught me to work hard and never give up.”
Walker will have several tough decisions to make next year on what sport she wants to play at the college level. She’s already had several schools peak her interest, but says it’s going to be tough to decide between softball and volleyball because she loves both sports equally.