Panthers bounce back to even district record

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Matthew Hilbrich (#18) makes contact with a pitch against Lampasas on Monday. The 9-0 win over the Badgers gave them a 2-2 district record. (Alex Rubio Photo)

By Lance Catchings

The Liberty Hill varsity baseball team had a bit of a rough start to open district play this season. After dropping a tough loss to Taylor to open district, the Panthers then fell to Salado 8-0 in the district home opener.

Pitcher Wyatt Cheney said the team is beginning to find their stride.

“Against Salado, we just needed to get the bat on the ball and score runners,” Cheney said.

“With runners in scoring position and less than two outs, we need to get them in to win those type of games. We’ve been off and on so far this season in district play. Sometimes, it feels like we do not bring a lot of energy to the field. When we bring energy, we are a really good ball club, but when we don’t, that is where we get in trouble,” he said.

Since then, the team has put together back-to-back wins to even their district record at 2-2. Liberty Hill had a nice 2-1 win on the road over Llano last Friday night and shut out Lampasas at home Monday evening 9-0. The turnaround can be found in playing solid defense and putting balls in play. Cheney, who picked up the win on the mound against Llano, said the first district win was uplifting.

“It was nice getting the win against Llano for sure,” he said. “Now we just want to get our momentum built up and get back after Taylor and Salado. We felt good after the win and everyone on the team was pretty happy. We are just really hoping it gives us some momentum to carry on throughout district play.”

Although the pitcher knew the Llano game was crucial to the success of his team, Cheney said he felt no pressure.

“I felt really good pitching against Llano,” he said. “I threw a no-hitter through six innings and struck out 15 batters. I didn’t feel any pressure headed into the game. I know we are a better team than our record shows. We know that because of our record, some might not believe in us, but we believe in ourselves. We will continue to play hard and see how it works out.”

Against Lampasas Monday night, Liberty Hill had the bats going. The Panthers scored two runs in the first, two in the second, one in the third and fourth and three in the sixth inning to blow out the badgers. Liberty Hill also tallied eight stolen bases in the win. Garrett Pogue got the win on the mound and Cole Alexander came in to relieve. Cheney said it was nice to pick up another district win at home.

“It felt really good to get a win at home for sure,” he said. “It was good to give our fans something positive. We hit the baseball pretty well and fielded pretty well throughout the game. Garrett pitched a great game and Cole Alexander came in and finished it off. It was just really good to get a win at home and show the fans we are a better team than our record shows.”

The key to the win for Cheney was all about getting the ball in play.

“Coach Kristan was real happy with us getting the win against Lampasas,” he said. “We put the ball in play and had runners score when they were in scoring position. That is a necessity to win district ball games. We want to continue to hit the ball hard and play the way we play. Our pitching has been good this year, so we just have to put the bats together.”

Defensively, Liberty Hill has put forth a strong effort all season.

“I think our defense has played pretty well behind our pitching this season,” Cheney said. “We have not had many errors, except for myself. Other than that, our outfield has played phenomenal. Grant Ornelaz made a huge play at center field against Lampasas to save two runs, and stuff like that is big. Our infield is playing pretty solid right now, as well.”

Cheney also said the strong play of his younger teammates is something the upperclassmen have taken notice of.

“We all talk about the games and what we have done right and wrong and what we need to fix,” he said. “All of the upperclassmen are real proud of the young guys we have playing for us. They have all stepped up and played well. Ryan Leary plays shortstop for us when I pitch, and has really stepped up. As a young kid, he doesn’t play with a lot of pressure on him, and that is good to see. I think he will help us a lot in the years to come.”

The Panthers host Leander Glenn Thursday night at 7 p.m. and will be looking to extend their district win total to three.

“If we can pick up the win against Leander Glenn, we can get the snowball effect,” Cheney said. “It gives us momentum headed into the rest of the district games. We are ready to play and hungry for wins.”

On Tuesday, Liberty Hill will travel to Burnet to take on the rival Bulldogs.

Lance@LHIndependent.com

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