Panthers advance with Giddings win after controversial first-round playoff

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By Keith Sparks

The Panthers’ first-round matchup with Giddings ended last Thursday in favor of Liberty Hill with a 5-1 victory, but it didn’t come without controversy.

With the Panthers down 1-0 in the top of the fifth inning, Giddings’ pitcher and number two batter approached home plate at full speed in an attempt to score while Liberty Hill catcher Logan Oehler attempted to make a play on the incoming throw to home. Oehler and the runner collided in a big way, but Liberty Hill Head Coach Kristen Brewer said it didn’t seem like there was malicious intent from either player.

“It was one of those that was very unfortunate,” Brewer said. “It wasn’t obstruction. Runner wasn’t intentionally trying to take Logan out. It was just one of those that doesn’t really happen very often.”

The umpires, however, saw it differently. After a conversation between all three umpires, the decision was made to eject the runner, who also happened to be Giddings’ pitcher and a big-time hitter.

The Panthers’ bats were already starting to get hot, and the pitching change allowed them to get even hotter.

“Apparently, in the umpire’s view, he took it as being malicious, so he did eject their player from the game,” Brewer said. “In doing so, that put a different pitcher in. We were already hitting the pitcher prior to that, but once she came in, we were on her pretty well.”

All three Panther seniors, Jessika Truax, Kandyn Faurie, and Ashley Gatlin, hit home runs off the new pitcher, and Liberty Hill was able to rattle off four runs in the bottom of the fifth inning to take a commanding 4-1 lead over a team that was still reeling from the collision at home plate and the resulting ejection.

Brewer said she wasn’t even aware the player had been ejected until an entire inning later, thinking instead that she had been taken out of the game due to injury.

“I wasn’t even aware first off, right when it happened,” Brewer said. “When that whole thing happened, we tended to Logan. Umpires didn’t say anything to us, nor did the Giddings coach. We did see the pitcher, but she had her arm wrapped like she was injured, so we thought it was an injury deal. It wasn’t until I subbed Logan out the next inning that he told me that girl had been ejected.”

Instead of falling victim to loud Giddings fans and upset coaches, the Panthers took advantage of the adrenaline rush. Brewer said Oehler’s sacrifice at the plate made the Panthers play for each other even more than they had been.

“I think it kind of got us fired up,” Brewer said. “Nobody from the beginning thought that runner took her out intentionally, but from then on, it was kind of like man down, we play for each other. That’s how we wrapped around it. It was an 0-1 ballgame and we were in a do-or-die situation. It’s not just playing for us, it’s playing for everybody. Logan gave her all to do what she could, so now it’s time for everybody else to step up. That’s how we used it.”

The Panthers ended the one-game series with a 5-1 victory, but the series would have been best of three if it were up to Brewer. Giddings won the coin toss prior to the game, however, allowing their coaching staff to choose the format.

“Anybody can be beaten any given day,” Brewer said. “Good teams, anything. To put all your eggs in one basket does make it tough. At least when you play best two out of three, nine times out of 10, the best team is going to move forward.”

In addition to the seniors’ home runs, Carissa Garza went one for two at the plate with a single, Abby Covington went one for three with a single, and Ireland Sargent went one for three with a single.

Covington pitched the entire game for the Panthers, finishing with five strikeouts, three walks, five hits allowed, and one earned run.

In the next round, Brewer will get her wish as both coaches agreed upon a three-game series. With poor weather on the horizon, however, it isn’t a given that the entire series will take place as planned.

“We agreed on a three-game series, but we’re not so sure we’re going to get all three games,” Brewer said. “That makes the first game a necessity, big time.”

Game one was scheduled at press time Wednesday in Gatesville, if weather allowed. If that game is played and the next two, which are scheduled to be played Friday, can’t be played, it will be treated as a one-game series with the game-one winner advancing. If Saturday approaches and neither game one nor game two have been played, Brewer said she’ll drive around the entire state looking for a dry field.

“If Saturday’s windy and raining bad, it could get to the point where we have to drive all over the state of Texas to find a dry field, because I guarantee you we’re not leaving a playoff game up to a coin flip to see who wins,” Brewer said.

The Panthers expect a fast team in the second round, but it’s nothing they aren’t used to.

“They’ve always been aggressive,” Brewer said. “They’ve always had fast players, but I do not think they’re as fast as Giddings. They’re the kind of team that doesn’t really let up, kind of like Taylor. They’re going to give 100 percent every play that they’ve got.”

Brewer said they’re also focused on being patient at the plate, which will benefit them later on, as well.

“We’re going to have to be patient as far as our hitting,” Brewer said. “We’re going to have to wait and let the ball get to us, but we’ve definitely worked on it in practice. Instead of driving long balls for home runs, it’s working a little more shorter, small ball and working together to get everybody in. I know we’ve got to get through this game, but going forward, we’re going to have to adjust some of the things we do with that.”

As far as pitching is concerned, Brewer hopes to get both Covington and Cheyenne Floyd some action in round two after being forced to stick with Covington through the entire first-round game.

“That’s going to depend on warmup the day of the game, and it’s also going to depend on the team we’re playing,” Brewer said of her plan for the mound. “It’s more playing it by ear. Best-case scenario is to use both of them in game one. Give one a couple innings, get a pretty good lead and put the other one it close it out, then kind of flip it in game two. Round one, Red was not able to go in, especially with all that commotion at the end, so it would help if we could get her in this round, so she doesn’t have to go two rounds without pitching anything in the playoffs.”

Game two is scheduled for Liberty Hill on Friday at 6 p.m. and game three, if necessary, immediately following game two.

Sports@LHIndependent.com

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