Panthers win warm-up, pitching key for playoffs

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By Joseph Garcia

Senior Matt Parks delivers a strike. He’s struck out 94 batters so far this season. (www.ThunderstruckPhotos.com)

Pitching for Liberty Hill’s district champion baseball team has seemingly carried the Panthers most of the year and will in all likelihood be the staple of success if they are to make a deep playoff run.

Most recently, in a warm-up game Monday, April 30, Liberty Hill pitching faced off against one of 3A’s top prospects against a West team ranked No. 5 in the state. The Panthers won 6-1.

“We played like we’ve been doing all year and we beat a pretty good team,” said Liberty Hill Coach Mike Kristan. “Jake (Ramirez) had the pleasure of pitching to Carpenter Kolbey who leads the universe in home runs in 3A.”

Kolbey, a University of Oklahoma commit, hit a towering homerun for West’s only run of the game. And Liberty Hill sophomore Dane Rumley had a shot at him as well.

“(Jake) threw a pretty good pitch and (Kolbey) hit one about 420 feet,” Kristan said. “Dane Rumley came in and pitched two innings and struck out the side in one inning and made (Kolbey) pop up with the bases loaded, then (Tyler) Barrows came in a struck out a couple. So, it was pretty good Liberty Hill baseball.”

The sophomore is just one of the promising pitchers Kristan has on staff and said Rumley got some “good stuff” and should be great for the foreseeable future.

But there are three main guys Kristan has chosen to go with most of this year. Starters Matt Parks and Jake Ramirez and closer Tyler Barrows have been the key arms for Liberty Hill.

For the entire season, the trio has a combined ERA (Earned Run Average) of just 2.01 and has accrued 178 strikeouts.

Parks, Liberty Hill’s “Strikeout King,” led the Panthers with 94, Ramirez has 52 and Barrows has fanned 32.

“Matt is such an easy going kid,” Kristan said. “He’s never in a hurry and doesn’t let anything faze him when he’s on the mound. He’s just kind of at his own pace. When he gets on the mound, he told me himself, that’s kind of his favorite place to be. He’s got 90-something strikeouts (94), which I think is second in Central Texas.”

Liberty Hill’s other predominant starting pitcher, Ramirez, is also known as “Chickenlegs.”

“He’s got about 10 other nicknames,” said Kristan. “He’s just steady and nothing fazes him. (But), he’s a little more emotional than Matt (Parks). When something bad goes on he wants to fix it and ‘says come on.’ Obviously he’s not as big of a power pitcher, but he still strikes out six or seven a game, which is pretty darn good in 3A. He’s a very smart, intellectual, and very likeable kid.”

And with elbows and legs flying around, opposing batters are seemingly fooled by his delivery.

“He comes from all different angles,” Kristan said. “Chickenlegs, he’s got his elbows, the paws and the glove coming one way and the ball going the other and a knee going the other way. So, he is more of an in-and-out guy, where as Matt (Parks) is coming right at you.”

Finally, Barrows has come on strong late in the year, embracing his role as the Panthers’ closer and doing his best Mariano Rivera impression.

“We finally got to the point where I said, ‘Tyler, you’re the closer’,” Kristan explained. “You’ve got to get a closer’s mentality. You’re not going to play for five and a half innings; you better get ready for it. Early on he struggled with it and throughout district I think he was perfect. He’s grown into that role and has a real nasty knuckle-curve that he calls a cutter. He’s real effective with it.”

While these three guys get things started on the mound, the young man behind the plate, Colby Schmidt, receiving and calling pitches has done an outstanding job as well, Kristan said.

“A lot of credit goes to our young kid behind the plate,” Kristan said. “Colby Schmidt is doing a good job and those guys are comfortable with him. (The pitchers) are all older kids and I don’t  know if I’ve seen (them) shake him off but maybe once or twice all year.”

While Liberty Hill’s bats have done, and will likely do, enough for their pitchers to work with, Kristan likes what he is receiving from his pitching staff.

“It’s a combination of all of those things,” he said. “Different arm angles, different personalities, just like you like (to have) on a pitching staff.”

Liberty Hill’s opponent for the Area round of the playoffs will be the winner of Hondo and Yoakum, which are set to play a best-of-three series beginning Thursday, May 3 at 7 p.m. at La Vernia. Game 2 will follow on Saturday, May 5 at 1:30 p.m. with a third game to follow if necessary.

 

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