By Taylor Grafft
The Liberty Hill Panthers baseball team is gearing up for their Regional Quarterfinal matchup with Stephenville in a best-of-three series that starts today, May 15, in Stephenville before returning to Liberty Hill on Friday in Game Two. If the series is tied after Friday, the teams will travel to Waco Veterans Stadium and play on Saturday for a chance to move onto the Regional Semifinals.
The Panthers are riding high after sweeping Graham in the Area Round in the first two games of the series to advance, 5-2 (Game One) and 6-2 (Game Two).
The Panthers defeated Graham with smart baseball and quality at bats in
the series. The games was not about which team got the most hits, but more about which team was more patient at the plate. That especially held true in the second game of the series when Graham’s pitcher walked five total batters in the
bottom of the third inning. The Panthers scored two runs (and tied the game) without even getting a hit in the inning, it just came down to making the Graham pitcher throw strikes. It seemed to be a real turning point in the series after the Panthers found themselves down two runs early, as they would go on to score six unanswered runs.
“These kids believe in what we’re doing,” said Coach Mike Kristan. “It’s what we have done all year and it really showed tonight. We put pressure on them and got patient. We knew (the starting pitcher) was struggling to throw strikes. That’s what you do, you put the pressure on them. We just had to take what they were giving us.”
Stephenville is coming off a two-game sweep of Kennedale in their Area Round to advance. Both games against Kennedale were close contests with neither team showing dominance. In Game One of the series, Stephenville won 5-3 and then pulled out a 3-2 victory in Game Two.
In the Bi-district round, Stephenville faced an opponent that is very familiar with Liberty Hill — the Gatesville Hornets. Stephenville defeated Gatesville in three games. In the first game they lost to the Hornets 6-3, they returned the next day and won Games Two and Three, 5-2 and 12-2.
In Game Two of the series, senior Kannon Prior got the start on the mound for the Panthers. Prior was solid and pitched six innings, giving up two runs (one earned) on three hits and struck out eight batters. Prior had a little trouble with throwing strikes in the early innings, which lead to six walked batters, but did well to settle in and shut Graham out after the top of the second inning.
Senior Colby Schmidt led the Panthers at the plate with a two-RBI game. Sophomore Slater Foust also led the Panthers at the plate by going 2-for-3 at the plate with two singles, an RBI, and a run scored.
Seniors Tristan Heidelberg and Jake Stalder each finished with a run batted in. Senior Cody Remore scored twice and drew two walks. On the mound, Remore came in for relief of Prior in the seventh inning. Remore recorded the save and struck out two of the three batters he faced. Remore only needed 11 pitches to get out of the inning and seal the victory.
In Game One of the series versus Graham, the Panthers rallied in the late innings to secure a 5-2 victory. Foust led the Panthers at the plate by going 2-for-3 with a double and single. He also drove in two runs, drew a walk, and scored a run.
Senior Tyler Vickers also made the most of his plate appearances going 2-for-3 at the plate with two singles, an RBI, and a run scored.
On the mound, junior Marshall Brown pitched a gem. Brown pitched six innings and allowed only one run on one hit. He struck out nine batters and recorded the win for the Panthers.
Remore came in for relief of Brown in the bottom of the seventh inning and picked up the save. Remore struck out two of the five batters he faced and was efficient as well. He got out three of the five batters with three pitches or less.
Game One of the best-of-three series will be on Thursday, May 15, at 7:30 p.m. at Stephenville High School. Game Two will be played at Liberty Hill on Friday, May 16, at 7:30 p.m. Game Three (if necessary) will be played on Saturday, May 17, at Waco Veterans Stadium at 1 p.m.