LHHS falls short to Krum in 4A State Championship

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2017-06-03 - LHHS Softball vs Krum - UT Austin-00920-163-web

Liberty Hill High School Principal Mario Bye (left) presents Head Coach Charice Hankins (center) with the State Runner-Up trophy as the Lady Panthers look on. The Panthers finished the season with an overall record of 39 wins, three losses, and one tie. (Alex Rubio Photo)

By KEITH SPARKS

AUSTIN — A historic season for the Lady Panther softball team came to an end on June 3 as Liberty Hill fell to the Krum Lady Cats in the State Championship at the University of Texas’ McCombs Field in Austin.

The typically high-octane Panther offense was unable to get much going against Krum’s ace pitcher Tristan Bridges, who was named the State Championship’s MVP. Bridges struck out eight Lady Panthers, giving up only five hits and one earned run.

The Panthers looked sharp early on, scoring two runs in the top of the first inning. Carissa Garza led off with a single, followed by a base hit by Sam Barnett. With two runners on, Joely Williamson laid down a bunt to advance Garza to third and Barnett to second. Jessika Truax followed up with a hit off of an error in the infield to bring Garza in for the first run of the game. Kinsey Kuhlmann hit a sacrifice fly to bring Barnett home, and the Panthers found themselves with a 2-0 lead in the opening inning of the State Championship.

After holding the Lady Cats scoreless in the bottom of the first inning, the Panthers gave up three runs in the second inning and one in the fourth. In the blink of an eye, Liberty Hill’s two-run lead turned into a 4-2 deficit.

Kuhlmann hit a huge triple in the top of the sixth inning, and was able to find home plate as the Lady Cats overthrew first base on an error following a hit from Kandyn Faurie, making it a one-run game at 4-3 in favor of Krum.

In the top of the seventh and final inning, down by one run, the Lady Panthers had runners on first and second with two outs, but Bridges showed why she was the MVP with the final strikeout to secure the 4-3 win for the Lady Cats.

According to Liberty Hill Head Coach Charice Hankins, the Panthers’ lack of offense had more to do with Bridges’ brilliance on the mound than her team’s performance at the plate.

“Today, we just found an opponent that was a little bit tough, and had one more run than we did,” Hankins said. “We couldn’t seem to get those runs in today. We just kept popping the ball up, and I think that had more to do with their pitching than anything.”

Krum finished with 10 hits against the Panthers, who started Abby Covington on the mound. Covington pitched all six innings for Liberty Hill. Hankins explained that, although the Lady Cats’ didn’t have any huge hits, their “bloopers” allowed them to put runners in scoring position.

“Today, I think they just dinked it,” Hankins said. “They put runners in scoring position and did what they needed to do. They didn’t have any big hits today. They just had little bloopers, bloopers, bloopers, and that’s all it takes sometimes. When you get those runners on, get people excited, and get them to score…that’s what we didn’t do today.”

Kuhlmann was the only Panther batter with anything more than a single. She finished with a triple, while Garza, Barnett, Williamson, and Logan Oehler each finished with singles.

Hankins had nothing but positive things to say about her team following the loss. The Panthers fought all season long, and finished with an incredible record of 39 wins, one tie, and three losses, two of which came in the playoffs.

“To have 39 wins and only three losses, and two of those losses came in the postseason, I just think that these kids just fought,” Hankins said. “They had so much fight. Everybody in the lineup contributed. It was a big team effort, led by two great seniors, and I couldn’t have asked for a better team.”

To get to the State Championship, the Panthers first had to go through the Vernon Lions in the Semifinal, who they beat by a final score of 6-2.

Liberty Hill’s first run came by way of a sacrifice fly from Truax, which brought Barnett in to score. Kuhlmann brought in Williamson off of an RBI-single for run number two.

Liberty Hill’s Amber Wiggins started the game for the Panthers on the mound, but was replaced by Covington after the Lions tied the game at 2-2 in the fourth inning.

Singles from Oehler and Barnett in the fifth inning gave the Panthers an opportunity to score with Williamson coming up to bat. She hit an RBI-single that brought in pinch runner Ashlyn Revere for run number three.

Truax followed that up with a massive three-run home run in the bottom of the fifth inning to give the Panthers a substantial 6-2 lead, which Liberty Hill would hold until the end.

“I’m thinking, ‘Just hit a line drive somewhere. Make sure that there’s a gap shot, and make sure someone else gets to score to give us some more cushion,’” Truax said of her home run.

Hankins explained that Liberty Hill’s goal, when they give up a run, is to match that as soon as they get an opportunity. Though they weren’t able to immediately follow up with a run in the bottom of the fourth, Truax and company made sure they did in the fifth.

“I just think when they scored, our goal is always to score back fast, and we didn’t do it in the bottom of that inning,” Hankins said of their big fifth inning. “Getting them back meant a lot. Jess (Truax) really got a hold of that ball. That was pretty sweet.”

Hankins also touched on the advantage that having two pitchers as talented as Wiggins and Covington gives the Panthers, especially in a one-game series.

“It gives us a huge advantage,” Hankins said of having two starting-caliber pitchers. “In a one-game series, you can let that first pitcher pitch a few innings, then the second one comes in for a few innings. Having two pitchers is key.”

Covington got the win on the mound for Liberty Hill after replacing Wiggins. Truax finished with a single, a home run, one run scored, and four RBIs, Williamson finished with two singles, two runs scored, and one RBI, Barnett finished with a single and two runs scored, and Kuhlmann finished with a single and an RBI.

The Lady Panthers finished as the State Runner Up for the first time in school history with an incredible 39 wins and only three losses, holding the state’s number-one ranking for the majority of the season.

“Great year. I’m proud of our kids,” Hankins said. “We played hard and tough. Our kids and coaches gave all they had to bring this championship home, we just came up a couple runs short. So proud of this team.”

Sports@LHIndependent.com

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