Hutcherson has Panthers off to a hot start

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By Lance Catchings

The Liberty Hill varsity baseball team rolled through their pre-season scrimmage schedule and kept that momentum going through to the start of the regular season.

The Panthers are off to a hot 5-1 start under first year head coach Steven Hutcherson and only look to be just getting started.

Tuesday night the Panthers dispatched of a talented Navarro team 8-3. The game was called during the bottom of the fifth inning due to thick fog.

Kory Schmidt led the team on the night with two hits, three RBI’s and scored one run.

“I was just going to the plate looking for my fastball to go after and be aggressive in the count,” Schmidt said. “We are playing good baseball right now and I feel like this is just the beginning of a good thing going for us.”

Liberty Hill went down 1-0 in the top of the first but quickly responded with three runs in the bottom of the inning to take a 3-1 lead and never relinquished. Schmidt hit a two run RBI double and on the next at bat Cole Alexander hit an RBI triple to give Liberty Hill the lead. Liberty Hill picked a run in the bottom of the second, two in the bottom of the third and one in the fourth and fifth innings before the game was called. The Panthers scored eight runs on nine hits while committing only one error on the night.

Hutcherson seemed pleased with the team performance after the game.

“They scratch out a run early and it had some to do with us not taking care of business and getting off the field with two outs and getting back in the dugout,” Hutcherson said. “To our credit we came in offensively and were able to scratch out a couple runs and from that point were really able to settle in and start playing the game. High school players will always have a little bit of nerves in the top of the first inning. By the bottom of the first we had them under control and started playing the game a little bit.”

Ryan Flake started the game on the mound and pitched four innings allowing four hits and one run, while striking out three. Matthew Thompson pitched the fifth inning allowing two hits and two runs. Defensively the Panthers looked sharp making routine plays look easy.

“Defensively we had more plays to make on the ground which was a good thing because of the weather,” he said.
“We kept the ball down, got ground balls and got out of innings. Pitching wise Flake just does what he does. He goes out and throws strikes and keeps us in games. He didn’t want to come out but its early in the season and I want to keep his pitch count low. Matt struggled with command, but he will wiggle into a jam and wiggle right back out. That is huge for his confidence going forward to get guys on but still get us back in the dugout.”

In the season opener Feb. 20, Liberty Hill defeated Boerne 6-0.

“It was a good win for us,” he said. “We put the ball in play and ran good bases. Our pitching was good that night, we threw a lot of strikes. Every time we had a play to make defensively, we made it. It was one of those well-rounded baseball games where we did almost everything correctly. Our guys were excited and there were some nerves, but we played fast.”

This past weekend the Panthers competed at the Marble Falls tournament and came away with a 3-1 record. Liberty Hill dropped its first game against Second Baptist 9-5 then followed it up with three straight wins. Liberty Hill defeated Boerne 11-0, Austin Lanier 6-5 and closed out with a 14-3 victory over La Grange.

“Against Second Baptist we kind of flipped from the things that had made us successful,” he said. “We walked a few guys, made a couple errors and hit a few batters. That really snowballed on us and we did not play a clean game. We ended up in more of a battle than we thought it would be and it was too little too late when we started coming back.”

In their third game of the tournament Liberty Hill showed how much fight it had by pulling out the 6-5 win over Lanier.

“Lanier jumped out to a lead on us and thank goodness we didn’t wait forever to try and come back,” he said

“We probably dug ourselves in a hole that if we were playing someone a little closer in talent level to us, we might lose that game. We stuck with it and battled. We tied it in the sixth inning and ended up walking off with it in the seventh inning.”

Liberty Hill will travel to West for a three-day tournament Feb. 28-March 2. They will play Waco Robinson, Palmer, Trinity Valley and West over the duration of the tourney. Liberty Hill was knocked out of the area round of the playoffs last season by Waco Robinson.

Robinson will be our big test and the best team we have played so far this season,” he said.

“Our focus has to be on staying consistent. We cannot have the ups and downs this season. We need to find a way to be good every time we go out on the field. We have to maintain our level of consistency on offense because I believe our defense and pitching will be consistent.”

Tuesday the Panthers are on the road against Elgin for a 7 p.m. matchup.

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