Panther baseball season ends in regional final

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By Lance Catchings

The Liberty Hill varsity baseball team’s season ended June 1 in Dripping Springs, two runs short of a trip to the UIL State Tournament.

After picking up an 8-3 victory May 30 in game one, the Panthers lost back-to-back games in their three-game series against La Vernia on Saturday. Liberty Hill lost game two by a score of 5-2 and game three 5-4.

In game three, it was a second-straight fast start by La Vernia that had the Panthers playing from behind. A leadoff triple in the top of the second inning followed by a double and an outfield miscue helped La Vernia build a 4-0 lead by the end of the inning.

La Vernia went up 5-0 in the top of the third inning, and the score remained that way for much of the game. Eventually, pitcher Ryan Flake settled in and the Panthers’ defense sharpened. In the bottom of the sixth, Liberty Hill made a move by picking up four runs.
Rowen Guerra singled, followed by a Ryan Leary double and a two-run RBI double by Kaden Dydalewicz. Cole Alexander singled, Wyatt Cheney was hit by a pitch, and then Pudge Carlisle hit a two-RBI triple to pull the Panthers within one, 5-4.

Flake retired two of the next four batters and his defense did the rest, but the Panthers could not complete the comeback in the bottom of the seventh inning. A strikeout, fly out and ground out ended the game for the Panthers and their chance to play in the UIL State Tournament.

Flake pitched five innings, allowing three hits and one run while striking out five. Mason Stearns pitched two innings, allowing five hits and four runs.

“When you are playing catch-up both games, it makes it tough to do the things we want to do that we felt got us to this point,” Head Coach Steven Hutcherson said. “Coming from behind is tough, and in game three, ultimately, we needed a few more outs to get it done, and we didn’t have enough time. I feel like we were one of the best four teams in the state, and we didn’t represent that today, and we won’t get to represent that on the state’s biggest stage. It is disappointing, but if you don’t learn from it, you don’t get better.”

In game two, La Vernia picked up two runs in the top of the first inning that put them off to a good start. The Bears added a run in the top of the third to make the score 3-0, and it remained that way until the bottom of the fifth inning.

In the bottom of the fifth, the Panthers loaded the bases and scored a run on a walk by Leary to make the score 3-1, but La Vernia turned a double play later in the inning and thwarted the Panthers effort.

At the top of the seventh, La Vernia picked up another two runs and improved their lead to 5-1. In the bottom of the inning, Liberty Hill loaded the bases once again with one out, but could only convert one run as La Vernia took the 5-2 victory.

“They took advantage of base runners and opportunities,” Hutcherson said. “We kind of fell in the trap of trying to do too much. That’s why it is so important to get game one in this type of series.”

Dydalewicz pitched six innings, allowing six hits and five runs while striking out 11. Matthew Thompson pitched one inning, allowing two hits, no runs and striking out one. The Panthers scored two runs, had five hits and one error in the loss while La Vernia scored five runs on eight hits and committed three errors.

The Panthers ended their season with the best playoff run for baseball in school history. Liberty Hill finished with a 32-5-1 record as undefeated district champions and a regional finalist.

“It is always disappointing when you get knocked out, but to do some of the things we did, it does not take away from everything that led up to that point,” Hutcherson said. “We had a season that a lot of teams would trade anything for, and we want to take it and roll with it. To get to play after graduation and win over 30 games it is a good season, no matter what the result is. The hard part about that is when you do all those things, you want the result to be playing in the last few games of the year, and we came up just a little bit short of that.”

Hutcherson, who is in his first season at Liberty Hill, said the future looks bright for the program.

“The good and the tough part of it is that the bar has been set pretty high,” he said. “It is not every year that you make a run like we did. That will be the bar that everyone looks at and says you weren’t as good as that group if you don’t make it back or get past there. That is a good problem to have, because you want the bar to be set as high as you can.”

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