New coach, talent raise expectations on the diamond
By Lance Catchings
The Liberty Hill High School baseball season has finally arrived, and under the direction of new Head Coach Steven Hutcherson, the players and coaches are ready to get the 2019 season kicked off.
Hutcherson was hired over the summer and officially started July 20, 2018. After six months of being in Panther nation, he believes the future is bright.
“The process since I first got here has been good,” Hutcherson said. “In the fall, I had some guys that were baseball only with me, and they had to adjust to some new things. That happens at every school, with every sport, any time you have a new coach coming in. We went to the weight room quite a bit and we started implementing the style of game that we want to play as early as August. If you wait until baseball season to start, then you’re too far behind the curve. Being able to have those guys and get them to adjust to what we want to do and how we want to play is big for us.”
There were quite a few cold and rainy days this past fall, but that did not stop Hutcherson and his players from getting outside and getting work done. He brings a tough mentality that he wants to instill in his program, and the players have been on board.
“The players have adjusted well,” he said. “I remember vividly one day in the fall, we went out during the period and did our thing. If we are willing to do that and other teams aren’t, then that is to our advantage. When I looked at my phone, it was 42 degrees and the wind chill was around 35, but we survived. When we start our season, we will have some days that are similar. We have a huge advantage with our facility that rain usually doesn’t keep us off unless it’s just pouring. That is our advantage over a lot of other places that when their grass is wet, they can’t practice. We want to use the advantage of our facility as much as we could. It may have shocked them a bit, but they rolled with it.”
Hutcherson wants Liberty Hill baseball to be known as a team that gives every opponent its best shot.
“We want to be everybody’s hardest team on their schedule,” he said. “That doesn’t mean that I think we’re the best team on everybody’s schedule. A hard team is a team that brings a lot of energy. You can get a three-run lead on them and they are not going to get quiet. We want to be relentless to the point of forcing our opponent to beat us. We do not want to be the team that beats themselves. If they outplay us, then you tip your hat and move on. We want to bring pressure and attack the game.”
Liberty Hill will field a talented roster this season. They currently have four players already signed to compete at the collegiate level, with more that will possibly sign this spring. That level of talent brings expectations, and Hutcherson knows they will have to earn their reputation on the field.
“We have four signed up and a few more that have a legitimate chance,” he said. “I think our expectation is we have the ability to be as good or better than anybody on our schedule or in our classification throughout the state. That is our expectation. Talent will not be our issue, because we have good players. There are things that we must get better at in order to reach our potential. Just because you have talent does not mean you are the team that will have the most success. We have some good players, but we have to learn how to use everybody’s gifts to help each other.”
The Panthers have a loaded non-district schedule. With tournaments in Marble Falls, West, Leander and Georgetown, the Panthers will see their fair share of top talent.
“Schedule-wise, I wanted to give us some opportunities to play high-level opponents and see if we get exposed,” Hutcherson said. “I got some advice from a person I respect that told me you want your schedule broken into thirds. You want a third you get off the bus you feel like if you play well you will win, a third where the team who plays better will win and a third where you step off and you are probably not the team that is supposed to win. I think that is what we have with our current schedule. If we play well, we give ourselves a chance against any of our opponents. We play some 5A and 6A schools, so we will be challenged this season. We wanted to see how well we match up with teams that have depth like we believe we have.”
District 27-4A will be no cakewalk, either. Last season, Liberty Hill finished third and is predicted by many to do so again. Hutcherson said his team will have to come out ready for district play, because they will get the best from every opponent.
“I think Salado is the one that has earned their reputation,” Hutcherson said. “I think most people in this area think they are the team to beat in our district. Taylor last year knocked us off twice, so they will be good again. Both teams graduated some players that were key pieces, but that is every year in high school baseball. The team I think that can play with anybody this year will be Lampasas. They were young last year and literally return everybody. Burnet is trying to get back to what they were from a few years back. Eastside Memorial comes in from a different district, and you just never know in baseball. The district prediction has us finishing third behind Taylor and Salado, with Lampasas taking fourth. The truth is, we won’t know how good we are until we play those teams.”
There is a buzz on campus about what the baseball program can accomplish this year, thanks in large part to Hutcherson’s arrival after a successful start to his head coaching career. Returning key pieces like pitcher Wyatt Cheney, Pudge Carlisle, Cole Alexander and others makes the sky the limit for this team.
“I like that our players have high expectations, but we are only as good as our play says we are,” Hutcherson said. “If we don’t show up and play well, then nobody will put stock in anything that we say. Our senior class is always the most important. Whether they are a guy that plays every game or doesn’t play a lot, those are the guys that have to lead the charge. If Wyatt Cheney has a good year, then I think we have a good year. Last year, he probably put too much pressure on himself. Our players must understand that they don’t have to do everything, but just be a piece of the puzzle. Pudge is really good, and he keeps his head down and does his job. We will also need guys to play to their potential. Cole Alexander is a player we need a good year out of him this year. We also some younger guys that it has become their time to step up.”
The Panthers open their season this Saturday at home against Leander Rouse. Game time is set for noon.