Freshman Freeman earns his keep on varsity

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Freshman Chandler Freeman, who starts at third base and pitcher, has made quite an impact in his first season with the varsity team. In Liberty Hill’s most recent game Tuesday against Taylor, one of the best teams in the district, Freeman threw a complete game and nearly led his team to victory. The Panthers lost 3-1. (Alex Rubio Photo)

Freshman Chandler Freeman, who starts at third base and pitcher, has made quite an impact in his first season with the varsity team. In Liberty Hill’s most recent game April 12 against Taylor, one of the best teams in the district, Freeman threw a complete game and nearly led his team to victory. The Panthers lost 3-1. (Alex Rubio Photo)

By MIKE SCHOEFFEL

Earning a starting spot on a varsity team as a freshman is no small accomplishment. For Liberty Hill’s Chandler Freeman, however, age is but a number. Just don’t check his face for dark hairs.

“I’m not even sure he shaves yet,” said Liberty Hill head coach Mike Kristan. “But he’s helped us tremendously this year. He’s done everything we’ve asked of him so far, and he’s done it well.”

Going up against fully-developed 17 and 18 year olds can be a daunting task for a kid fresh out of middle school. But Freeman has handled his rise with grace and an underlying sense of destiny, developing into one of the Panthers’ most effective and consistent pitchers. He’s a talented hitter and fielder, too. When he’s not on the mound, he often mans third base, where he’s established himself as a defender worth his salt.

So did Freeman expect to ascend to the starting nine with such rapidity?

“Somewhere in between,” he said. “I knew I was good enough, but I had to go out and prove it. I came in from day one and have been working hard to earn a starting position. It’s worked out so far.”

Freeman’s not only starting, he’s making a difference.

Against much-maligned rival Burnet on April 5, the freshman made a tremendous diving stab on a ground ball at third base early in the game. Later on, he contributed two hits, helping the Panthers win their first district game of the season.

“It was important for me to play well,” said Freeman. “We wanted to get that win so we could build momentum and do some damage later on.”

Perhaps Freeman’s best pitching performance of the district schedule came against Taylor on Tuesday. Facing one of the more potent line-ups in the district, Freeman brought the fire, striking out five batters and allowing just three earned runs in five and one third innings. The Panthers lost, 3-1, but that did little to damper the impression Freeman left on his coach.

“He handled it really well,” said Kristan. “He never appears overwhelmed, and nothing seems to faze him.”

Of course, Freeman has been aided by some well-intentioned guidance as he navigates his first varsity season.

Senior Slater Foust, the ace of the Panthers’ pitching staff, has played the role of seasoned sage.

“He’s been there for me all season,” said Freeman. “Great guy, really funny. He’s been a big help.”

Kristan agreed.

“Slater does a good job with that,” he said. “He’s the ultimate teammate. He always wants his teammates to do better. He’ll help everybody, and he’s done especially well with Chandler.”

As good as Freeman has been, Kristan has noticed possible areas of improvement. Patience at the plate, Kristan said, is one of those areas.

The coach said Freeman “takes good swings, but they’re not always at the best pitches.”

Still, on the whole, there has been more positive than negative. And with his entire varsity career looming ahead of him, there seems to be no limit to the talented young frosh’s potential.

“He loves to play the game. It’s important to him and he works at it,” said Kristan. “I hope he gets better each year.

“If he does, he’ll make me look smart.”

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