By MIKE SCHOEFFEL
Liberty Hill pitcher Nathan Flake’s earned run average is essentially a grain of sand. On second thought, a grain of sand may be bigger.
Flake, an 18-year old lefty on the Liberty Hill varsity squad, had faced 111 batters over 26 innings this season as of Monday. He’s allowed just two earned runs. After Tuesday’s shutout against Llano, Flake has an ERA of .410, by far the lowest on the team among players with at least 20 innings pitched. Less than half-a-run allowed per nine innings pitched.
That’s, well, grain-of-sand-like. A drop of water in a river.
The Panthers have flourished alongside their stoic southpaw, starting the season with seven straight wins and refusing to slow down. Now, with just a little over a week remaining in the regular season, they’re 19-2, undefeated in district play, and gearing up for what seems to be the beginning of a deep playoff run.
The secret to success, Flake said, has been a strong sense of chemistry.
“It allows us to play unbelievably well with each other,” he said. “We have all grown up together, and for the most part, played with each other since fifth grade. We enjoy coming to practice, always play hard, and have fun every time we take the field.”
Fellow senior Ryan Ray is one example of that long history. Ray met Flake when Ray moved to Liberty Hill in fourth grade. The two were on the same youth baseball team in Ray’s first year and have been buddies ever since. Ray, a solid player in his own right, has watched Flake develop into the lights-out hurler he is today. Ray said the key to his pal’s success is his “mentality on the field.”
Flake, like Ray, is keenly aware that his high school playing days are nearing an end. Though he’s currently seeking an appointment to the US Coast Guard Academy, where he will have an opportunity to play four years of college ball, he’s not taking these final weeks in purple and gold for granted.
“I’m doing my best to take in and appreciate every time I put my spikes on and take the field,” he said. “I try to make every practice fun, keeping the energy level high, and enjoy spending time on the field with my best friends.”
The ultimate goal for Flake and his teammates, of course, is a Class 4A state title. With the way the Panthers have run roughshod over their opponents up to this point, it certainly doesn’t seem out of the question.
Flake called the prospect of being crowned state champion “unbelievable.”
“I couldn’t ask for a better team to try and win a state title with,” he added.
Along the winding road that has led him to varsity success, Flake has encountered many people who have aided his baseball journey. None, however, have been as important as his father, Andrew Flake, who he calls the “greatest influence on me throughout my baseball career.”
Flake also praised coach Andrew Prater at ABC and coach Keith Jackson at Action Baseball for being “incredible advocates for me, providing me with great baseball opportunities outside the high school program.”
Through it all, baseball has developed into more than just a recreational activity for Flake. In many respects, it’s become a way of life. The sport has bestowed its fair share of wisdom on Flake, the fearsome lefty with an ERA the size of a grain of sand.
Or perhaps smaller.
“Baseball has taught me many life lessons,” he said. “It’s taught me the importance of teamwork, patience, good sportsmanship, and most of all, respect.”