Liberty Hill faces stiff test in La Vernia

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Liberty Hill head coach Mike Kristan and the Panthers are gearing up for their bi-district playoff match-up with La Vernia (18-7, 10-2) . La Vernia, the second seed out of District 26-4A, has won 15 of its last 18 games. Game one of the three game series will be 7 p.m. this Friday at Liberty Hill High School. Slater Foust is expected to start for the Panthers. (Alex Rubio Photo)

Liberty Hill head coach Mike Kristan and the Panthers are gearing up for their bi-district playoff match-up with La Vernia (18-7, 10-2) . La Vernia, the second seed out of District 26-4A, has won 15 of its last 18 games. Game one of the three game series will be 7 p.m. this Friday at Liberty Hill High School. Slater Foust is expected to start for the Panthers. (Alex Rubio Photo)

By Mike Schoeffel

The regular season is over, the UIL playoff brackets have been set, and the Liberty Hill baseball team now knows who it will face in the bi-district series beginning this Friday evening.

It’s La Vernia (18-7, 10-2), the second seed out of District 26-4A.

Game one will be played at 7 p.m. Friday at Liberty Hill High School. Game two will take place at 2 p.m. on Saturday at La Vernia.

If a third game is necessary, it will be played immediately following game two.

Liberty Hill (14-8, 5-5) secured the third seed out of District 25-4A after defeating Burnet, 11-1, in a one game tiebreaker last Friday. La Vernia, a team that advanced to the area finals in 2015, lost a tiebreaker to Geronimo Navarro last week to secure the second seed out of district 26-4A.

But don’t think La Vernia is at all weakened by the defeat.

The Bears, as their called, were one of the most competitive teams in a district that boasted four teams with winning records: Geronimo Navarro (24-2, 10-2), La Vernia (18-7, 10-2), Wimberely (17-9, 9-3), and Cuero (17-9, 6-6). Before the loss to Geronimo Navarro in the tiebreaker, the Bears had won five straight games, and 15 of their previous 17.

“They’re good, and we know that,” said Liberty Hill head coach Mike Kristan.

“But the guys aren’t going to back down. They’ve been pretty level-headed all year, and competitive against a number of tough teams. I think we’ll do well.”

By all accounts, La Vernia is an exceptionally well-rounded ball club equally comfortable competing in a shootout or a pitcher’s duel. The Bears offense is averaging seven runs per game while their pitching staff is giving up just over three.

The Bears have been paced by a pair of quality starting pitchers: Tanner Sims and Kyle Kincaid. Sims, a second team all-state selection last season, is perhaps the team’s ace. The Panthers will likely face him in game one.

Kincaid, a first team all district selection last year, has been nearly as good. His signature moment came on the final day of the regular season, when he struck out nine batters and two runs (none earned) over six innings in a 4-3 upset victory over juggernaut Geronimo Navarro. It was only Navarro’s second loss of the season.

That being said, Liberty Hill head coach Kristan believes his team matches up well with the Bears.

“They’ve got a couple good pitchers, but we have some good guys, too,” he said. “There’s no reason to think we can’t compete against these guys.”

The Panthers will be close to fully healthy entering the postseason, with the only noticeable absence being Nathan Flake, who is expected to miss the rest of the season.

Kristan said he will throw in ace Slater Foust in game one. The game two starter will most likely be freshman Chandler Freeman, who has come up big in a number of key starts this season.

When asked who will start pivotal third game, if it turns out to be necessary, Kristan just laughed.

“That should be obvious,” he said, insinuating that Foust will be back on the hill for the decisive game.

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