Liberty Hill ends softball season in Region Final
By Taylor Grafft
MUMFORD — The Liberty Hill Lady Panthers showed a lot of heart and fight last Friday night — characteristics they have carried with them all season.
Unfortunately for Liberty Hill fans, that fight came just a little too late. The Needville Lady Jays completed the sweep and ended the Lady Panthers’ season with a 13-9, Game Two win in Mumford in the Region IV Final.
Coach Charice Hankins’ team could have laid down and given up in the first inning after Needville jumped out to a commanding 8-0 lead, but that’s not the Panther way.
Led by the eight seniors that are featured on the Liberty Hill roster the team clawed their way back to keep their season alive for a few more hours.
“They kept fighting,” Hankins said. “I kept telling them you have to fight. That this is a battle. That you have to respond. To bring it back to 13-9, if you take away (Needville’s) grand slam in the first inning it would have been a different ball game.
“I couldn’t ask for them to fight any harder,” Hankins added. “This whole year has been a wonderful journey. (On Thursday and Friday) I don’t think we played our best softball, but I do feel like they fought hard and did everything they could to rally. It was a joy to watch them compete and battle.”
Needville senior Mari Cranek hit a grand slam over the right field wall off Liberty Hill junior Nicole Thiem in the first inning to add four more runs to a 4-0 lead.
Liberty Hill then brought in senior Sam Junkin, who was the starter for the Panthers in Game One, to try and manage the bleeding and get the final out of the inning—she did, but the Lady Panthers had their work cut out for them if they wanted to force a Game Three on Saturday.
In the second inning, Needville extended the lead to 9-0 after scoring on a wild pitch.
Liberty Hill responded by scoring five runs in the bottom of the second. Junior Haylee Park singled to right allowing senior Kelly McKinzey to cross home plate.
Two batters later, senior Lynsey Mitchell got her team right back in the ballgame with a grand slam to left field to cut the deficit to 9-5.
Liberty Hill hit 36 home runs this season, which is well over the school record—Mitchell accounted for 11 of those.
In the third inning, Needville’s Kylie Matula doubled to the gap in right field to bring in a run and extend the Lady Jays’ lead to five.
Needville added another run in the fifth off of Megan Crosby’s RBI base hit up the middle.
Liberty Hill sophomore Joely Williamson went deep in the bottom of the fifth inning to cut the lead to 11-6, but the Lady Panthers couldn’t drive in any more runs despite an extra base hit by McKinzey.
Crosby drove in her third run of the game on a two-run home run in the seventh inning to make the game 13-6.
In the final inning of the Lady Panthers’ season, Williamson reached base on a leadoff single up the middle. Junkin then homered to centerfield to cut the lead to 13-8.
Park then doubled to the gap in right field to score senior Baylie Bevers and cut the lead to four runs, but Liberty Hill couldn’t manage to garner anymore hits in the inning as Mitchell grounded out to third to record the final out.
In Game One on May 28, the Lady Jays jumped out to an early lead as well. Cranek doubled on a line drive to the gap in left field to drive in three runs, which made the score 4-0.
Needville added two more runs in the fifth inning on a two-run double by sophomore Taylor Nolen.
Once again Liberty Hill showed a lot of fight and battled back in the final two innings.
Mitchell hit a two-run home run to centerfield, which put her in double digits for home runs on the year.
Junior pinch hitter Jenna Kieschnick then hit a solo home run to left field to cut the lead to three, but it was a little too late as the Lady Panthers fell 6-3 in Game One to the Lady Jays.