Lady Panthers secure share of District 8-3A title

Nicole Thiem snags a line drive for an out in the Lady Panthers’ 3-0 win over Burnet last Friday. (Photo by Kathy Canady)

Nicole Thiem snags a line drive for an out in the Lady Panthers’ 3-0 win over Burnet last Friday. (Photo by Kathy Canady)

By Joseph Garcia

  To be a great team, greediness is an essential trait.

Currently, the Liberty Hill Lady Panthers find themselves sharing the District 8-3A Championship with the Gatesville Hornets following a hard-fought win over Lampasas Tuesday night. But the Lady Panthers do not like to share.

It was a lot tighter of a game than was expected between Liberty Hill and Lampasas, a team with one district win.

Samantha Junkin (20-1) was in the circle for Liberty Hill, and the team needed every bit of what she produced. She gave up just two hits, struck out 12 batters and allowed no runs in five innings of work. Then Nicole Thiem came in and struck out three of her own to preserve the 4-0 victory.

Liberty Hill moved to 9-0 in district and 26-2 overall and earned at least a share of the district title with one game remaining on Friday in Gatesville, when the Lady Panthers can take the crown outright.

“The district championship is very important to our team,” said Liberty Hill Coach Charice Hankins. “We have played hard and set that as one of our team goals and our kids want it outright.  They don’t really want to share it.”

Through the first three innings, Junkin faced nine batters and struck out seven of them, including the side in the third inning. But offensively the story of the night for the Lady Panthers was runners left on base.

Liberty Hill stranded six runners on base through just the first two innings and was unable to manufacture any runs until the third inning, but even that was difficult.

Kallen Floyd started the third off with a single and Presley Walker followed up with a walk. Lynsey Mitchell then reached base, but Floyd was tagged out at third. Two batters later, Courtney Weems smacked a triple down the third base line that initially scored two runs.

However, one of the runs was disallowed after the Lampasas catcher inquired – on the advice of fans in the stand and eventually her coach – to the umpire if Mitchell touched the third base bag. Once she asked, the umpire called Mitchell out for missing the bag, bringing the inning to an end with Liberty Hill on top 1-0.

After another quick inning, in which Junkin struck out three batters in a row, the Lady Panthers added another run on an RBI single off the bat of Floyd down the right field line, scoring Baylie Beavers. With the score now 2-0 and with the bases loaded, Liberty Hill looked for more. However, the Lady Panthers would leave three more runners on base.

Junkin had a no-hitter going through four and a third innings, until Lampasas finally managed to get one through to the outfield. Still, she fanned two more batters in the fifth inning before her night was through.

Liberty Hill scored its final two runs in the bottom of the fifth inning.

With two on and two out, Paige Lafferty ripped an RBI single off the shortstop’s leg, scoring Weems from third. The next batter, Alyson Sulak, slapped a bunt single to score Delaney Red, making the score 4-0.

“It sure did seem to be a tough game,” Hankins said. “We had 12 hits, and that was awesome, but leaving 11 runners on the bases is not what we want to do in any game. Those four runs were like pulling teeth – tough and hard to come by.”

Thiem came in for the final two innings and shut things down, allowing just one hit to seal the 4-0 win.

Liberty Hill’s attention is now turned to its final regular season game against Gatesville on Friday, April 19, at 6:45 p.m.

The Hornets are brimming with confidence after the Lady Panthers scraped by them 5-4 last month. If 8-1 Gatesville wins, then it claims a share of the District 8-3A title along with Liberty Hill.

But the Lady Panthers are self-assured in their abilities to complete the undefeated district season.

“I think our kids are excited and determined to win the next game,” Hankins said. “They know they hit the ball well last time against Gatesville, we just hit it right at them. We will need to put runners on and get them in. There should be lots of fight and focus, and our kids want to win this battle.”