Lady Panthers win district pitchers’ duel
By Joseph Garcia
The lightning was just far enough away that Liberty Hill and Brownwood were able to finish a classic on Tuesday night.
While there was a short delay in the action when the lights went out in left field, when they were on, both teams’ pitchers dealt lights-out performances with Liberty Hill’s Samantha Junkin edging out her counterpart Sydney Laws of Brownwood.
The two pitchers threw complete games and combined to give up just three hits (Junkin one and Laws two). Junkin had a no-hitter going through six and a third innings, recorded 11 strikeouts and an RBI at the plate to lead Liberty Hill to a 2-0 victory, as the Lady Panthers improved their record to 2-0 in District 8-3A and 19-2 overall.
“(Junkin) did a good job,” said Liberty Hill Coach Charice Hankins. “We were going to put in Nicole Thiem since they had seen (Junkin) three times already. But (Junkin) finished it and was able to (close them out).”
The pitchers’ duel began with a quick 1-2-3 first inning for both teams. Then in the top of the second, Junkin stuck out the side, a feat she realized three times on Tuesday.
Finally, the all-important second inning came about for the usually potent offense of the Lady Panthers, who have put up high run totals all season. But on Tuesday night Liberty Hill had to adjust to the clever pitching of Laws and played small ball.
The inning began with senior Presley Walker reaching first base when the Brownwood catcher was unable to handle a pitch on strike three. Liberty Hill’s first hit of the game ensued when Lynsey Mitchell smacked a single to center field.
Next, a perfectly placed bunt by Payton Walker forced Brownwood into an error, loading the bases with no outs, giving Liberty Hill a great chance to score. Courtney Weems then hit a towering fly ball that drifted foul beyond the right field line. The hit was deep enough for Presley Walker to tag up at third base and score to give Liberty Hill a 1-0 lead.
Junkin then helped out the team’s cause after slamming a deep fly ball to right field, plating Mitchell from third, who tagged up. When the inning concluded, Liberty Hill was on top 2-0, which would be good enough for the win.
“That’s really what a ballgame is supposed to be,” Hankins said. “Usually when you have eight, 10, 14 hits it means that someone’s pitcher is not that effective. (Laws) was very effective and she did a great job.”
Junkin definitely had plenty of help behind her defensively.
At a crucial junction in the game in the sixth inning, just before the lights went out for roughly 15 minutes, Brownwood’s leadoff batter drew a walk after a tremendous at-bat. Then the outfielders got to work.
Following a fly out to center field caught by Weems, the senior stalwart made an incredible underhand sliding catch that, if it was dropped, could have changed the game completely with one runner on and just one out.
“That (play) could have changed the ballgame and Paige (Lafferty) making the tag at shortstop (for the final out) was nice and could have gone either way,” Hankins said. “It was good small ball.”
Junkin got the next batter to fly out to left field, however, where Bailey Bevers was waiting to make the catch.
Liberty Hill’s second hit came in the sixth, when Paige Lafferty slammed a leadoff-double over the center fielder’s head. The Lady Panthers were unable to bring her in, however.
Brownwood finally got its first hit of the game on a bloop single over second base. But Junkin came back to strike out her 11th batter, then Lafferty tagged out the runner rounding second for the final out of the game.
“The message right now is that Brownwood is not scared of us and they think that they can win because we only had two hits and only scored two runs,” Hankins explained. “They were not that far away.”
Defensively, Brownwood played near the fence, knowing the Liberty Hill batters have power. But the game plan for their next meeting will be to try and drop hits in front of the defense.
“When we go there we’ve got to come out, make some adjustments and we’ve got to hit her,” Hankins said of the team’s next meeting. “We need to get the bat on the ball. We’ve got to figure out a way to get the ball in between (the defense).”
Liberty Hill is ranked No. 2 in class 3A in the latest Texas Girls Coaches Association Poll. But none of that stuff matters right now, Hankins said. It is all about getting the job done in district.
“This is when it counts,” she said. “Our record doesn’t matter, it just matters what we learn through the journey leading up to now and what we do in district.”