By KEITH SPARKS
As expected, the Lady Panther softball team breezed through the first round of the playoffs over the weekend, beating Smithville by a final score of 12-1 on April 28 in Smithville to sweep the best-of-three series and take their 30th win of the season, giving them a 30-1-1 overall record.
Liberty Hill was led by senior Sam Barnett’s three-for-four performance at the plate on Friday, as she hit three triples and brought in an RBI. Kandyn Faurie made an impact at the plate, as well, going one for three with a double and three RBIs, while Carissa Garza went one for three with a double and an RBI.
The Panthers led 2-0 after the first inning of game two, but allowed Smithville to hang in there until the top of the third inning, as the Panthers were able to rip five runs to take a 7-0 lead. Barnett was impressed with her team’s ability to remain calm in game two, despite struggling to find their offense in the first two innings.
“It took us a couple of innings, but we definitely stayed relaxed, which I think is really good to see,” Barnett said. “We weren’t freaking out. We came back, I’d say the third inning, and broke it open. We faced kind of the same pitching as in district, so it wasn’t too big of an adjustment. They were maybe a little bit better, but nothing too fancy, yet.
Liberty Hill scored three more runs in the fourth inning and two in the fifth to take a 12-0 lead, allowing just one run in the bottom of the final inning.
Abby Covington got the win on the mound for the Panthers, pitching a shutout in the first three innings before Amber Wiggins took over in the fourth. Covington now holds an 11-1 record on the season as a starter.
On April 27, the Panthers took game one of the series against Smithville at home with the Panther faithful in attendance.
“It was a huge advantage, since we’re not having to travel,” Barnett said of playing at home in their first game of the playoffs. “Just having home-field advantage, knowing where the sun’s at, knowing our fences, knowing how the ball’s going to bounce on the turf, so that was definitely a huge advantage.”
The Panthers jumped on Smithville immediately in game one, scoring seven runs in the first inning, establishing their dominance from the get-go. Liberty Hill went on to score runs in every inning, winning by a final score of 13-0.
Garza went a perfect three for three at the plate with two singles and a double, Barnett went three for four with two singles, a double, and two RBIs, and Faurie went two for three with a double, a single, and two RBIs.
“Our kids came out excited. They were pumped up,” said Liberty Hill Head Coach Charice Hankins. “They came out in the first inning and hit the ball hard and well, and had control. It was good.”
The Panthers’ second-round matchup will take place against the Athens Hornets, who beat China Spring in the first round after three closely contested games, each of which was decided by just one run. China Spring took the first matchup by a final score of 1-0, followed by two straight Hornet wins by scores of 3-2 and 4-3.
“We know that they field a good team,” Barnett said of the Hornets. “We know that their pitcher has decent speed. We don’t know too much about them, just that they’ll be a quality team. Better than we’ve faced in district. It will be a better team, but I think we’re ready.”
Liberty Hill’s first game against Athens will take place at the Waco ISD Sports Complex at 4:30 p.m. this Friday, May 5. The second game will take place at the same location at 2 p.m. on Saturday, May 6. If a third game is necessary, it will begin 30 minutes after game two.