Baseball makes amends

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Connor Thompson, pictured here in the season opener against Boerne on Feb. 23, has been one of Liberty Hill’s best hitters so far this season. Thompson is hitting .440 with six RBI and a pair of doubles. The Panthers won three of four games at the Marble Falls Hill Country Classic last weekend. (Alex Rubio Photo)

Connor Thompson, pictured here in the season opener against Boerne on Feb. 23, has been one of Liberty Hill’s best hitters so far this season. Thompson is hitting .440 with six RBI and a pair of doubles. The Panthers won three of four games at the Marble Falls Hill Country Classic last weekend. (Alex Rubio Photo)

By MIKE SCHOEFFEL

After the Liberty Hill baseball team lost the season opener to Boerne by mercy rule, Panthers’ head coach Mike Kristan was confident in his team’s ability to make amends.

“I’m not too worried about them feeling sorry for themselves,” he said. “I think they’ll be excited to come back and play after being embarrassed 15-1.”

That statement seems almost prophetic now, as the Panthers fixed many of the problems that plagued them in the season opener with a strong showing at the Marble Falls Hill Country Classic this past weekend. Fueled by what Kristan called “good team offense” and a revitalized defense, the Panthers went 3-1 and outscored their opponents 23-4.

Liberty Hill beat Elgin, Canyon Lake, and Marble Falls, losing only to Second Baptist by a 2-0 final.

Kristan was pleased that his team was able to correct some of its shortcomings.

“Defense was the problem in the season opener, and we played a lot better team defense this weekend,” he said. “We’re still not hitting the ball as well as we should be, but we’re putting the ball in play, getting on base, and running the bases well.”

The Panthers have been highly aggressive on the basepaths this season, stealing 29 bases in 31 attempts. Putting that kind of pressure on an opposing defense is key, noted Kristan, especially since the offense hasn’t been particularly hot as of yet. Through five games, the Panthers have a collective batting average of just .233.

The Panthers made up for their low average by playing small ball. Kristan praised his players for laying down “several successful bunts” over the course of the weekend, and correcting one major Achilles Heel from the season-opener: strikeouts.

“We’re putting the ball in play, so at least they’re making contact and getting a chance to run,” he said. “A strikeout is a wasted out, and the only time it can be good is when you see eight or nine pitches and battle the guy a little bit.”

“If you strike out in three or four pitches,” he added. “That doesn’t do any good.”

Junior leadoff hitter Connor Thompson has been the Panthers biggest offensive threat thus far, hitting .440 with six RBI and a pair of doubles. Mason McLenna and Cooper Phelan each are hitting over .300. McLenna has three doubles, while Phelan has scored four runs.

The pitching, too, was solid in the Marble Falls Hill Country Classic. Thompson put on perhaps the best performance of the tournament in a 14-1 victory over Canyon Lake, tossing a complete game three-hitter and striking out eight batters. Chandler Freeman, a freshman, was credited with the win in a 1-0 victory over Elgin to kick off the tournament, and Luke Alexander was the winning pitcher in the last game of the weekend against Marble Falls. Zach Smith earned a save against Elgin.

“All in all, a good tournament,” said Kristan. “We’ll see if we can keep it up this weekend.”

The Panthers will travel to Llano this weekend for the second of three early-season tournaments. Their first game is on Thursday at 9:30 a.m. at the Moore Complex in downtown Llano.

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