Panthers move to Regional Semifinals vs Lubbock Cooper

Senior outfielder Jake Stalder (#20) quickly fields a hard hit ball to left. The Panthers swept Stephenville in the Regional Quarterfinals and will face Lubbock Cooper in the Regional Semifinals this week. (Kathy Canady Photo)

Senior outfielder Jake Stalder (#20) quickly fields a hard hit ball to left. The Panthers swept Stephenville in the Regional Quarterfinals and will face Lubbock Cooper in the Regional Semifinals this week. (Kathy Canady Photo)

By Taylor Grafft

The Liberty Hill Panthers baseball team is moving onto the Regional Semifinal round this weekend after sweeping Stephenville in a best-of-three series last week. The Panthers relied on clutch hitting in Game One and elite run scoring in Game Two to sink their opponents and move onto the next round.

Liberty Hill will face-off against Lubbock Cooper in their Regional Semifinal round with Game One scheduled for Friday, May 23, at 7:30 p.m. at Hardin-Simmons University in Abilene.

Like the Panthers, the Cooper High School Pirates are also coming off a two-game sweep of their opponents in the Regional Quarterfinal round. The Pirates defeated Andrews 6-5 in Game One and 10-4 in Game Two.

All three games of the best-of-three series will be played at Hardin-Simmons University. Game Two is scheduled for Saturday, May 24, at 12 Noon, while Game Three (if necessary) will be played 30 minutes after the conclusion of Game Two.

“You have to have some race horses on your team to win games,” Coach Mike Kristan said. “We have two or three guys that I would consider race horses and also about 10 guys that can contribute on any given night. I don’t think you can scout us.”

The Panther defense and pitching will need to keep a close eye on the Pirate hitters. Cooper can score runs in bunches and can also turn singles into extra bases with their above average speed.

Liberty Hill still looks to have an advantage over their next opponents, however. Cooper has yet to see a team as experienced and as talented as Liberty Hill in their playoff journey.

“The kids were really pumped and excited after (coming back and winning Game One) and I really think it gave us momentum coming into Game Two,” said Kristan. “It took us forever to get to four runs in Game One, but to score four runs early (in Game Two) and have kids willing to take a pitch against a pitcher that throws 90 miles per hour is important.”

In Game One of their series against Stephenville, the Panthers found themselves down 3-1 in the top of the seventh inning and losing momentum.

The inning started with senior Tyler Vickers drawing a walk and Slater Foust being hit-by-pitch. David Nash then singled to third and an error by the Stephenville first baseman allowed Vickers to score. Foust then scored on a wild pitch to tie the game at 3-all.

With the game on the line, senior Tristan Heidelberg stepped up to the plate with two men on and one out and doubled to center field to drive in the go-ahead run and give the Panthers a 4-3 victory.

Coach Kristan said that the three-run rally and victory in Game One really shifted the momentum in the series and gave the team a lot of confidence going into Game Two in Liberty Hill.

Heidelberg led the Panthers at the plate in Game One by going 3-for-4 with two doubles, a single, and an RBI. Senior Colby Schmidt also had a solid evening at the plate going 1-for-2 and drawing two walks.

Marshall Brown pitched five and two-thirds innings for the Panthers and struck out eight batters. Brown allowed three runs (two earned) on five hits and four walks.

Cody Remore came in, in the sixth inning and recorded the win for the Panthers. Remore struck out three batters and allowed one hit.

The Panthers’ Game Two 11-1, victory showed the supporters and coaches just how tough it is to scout Liberty Hill’s team. One game the Panthers are clutching up and winning close games in the final inning, the next game they’re scoring runs in bunches and dominating their opponents.

It’s something that the Panthers have done all season long and has been a key to their success. Any player on the roster can step up and be clutch for the Panthers in close games. Or there may be nights where everyone is hitting and the result is games like Game Two which was won by 10 runs in sixth innings.

Senior Jake Stalder led the Panthers at the plate in Game Two by going 3-for-4 with a double, an RBI, and two runs scored. Senior Colt Stofle drove in two runs, while sophomore Foust scored three runs and was walked twice.

Schmidt homered to left field in the second inning and was walked three times in the game. Heidelberg led the Panthers by driving in four runs and scoring one himself.

Senior Kannon Prior was strong in his start on the mound for the Panthers. Prior pitched a complete game (six innings) and allowed only two hits and one earned run. He struck out six batters and walked two.