Panthers gain momentum at Llano tournament

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Jaret Huddleston is expected to see significant ttime on the mound for the Liberty Hill baseball team this season. Said Panthers’ head coach Mike Kristan of Huddleston: “he’s a junkball, knuckleballer, come-in-anytime-you-need-him kind of kid.” Huddleston struck out two batters in one inning of work at the Llano Tournament this past weekend. (Alex Rubio Photo)

Jaret Huddleston is expected to see significant ttime on the mound for the Liberty Hill baseball team this season. Said Panthers’ head coach Mike Kristan of Huddleston: “he’s a junkball, knuckleballer, come-in-anytime-you-need-him kind of kid.” Huddleston struck out two batters in one inning of work at the Llano Tournament this past weekend. (Alex Rubio Photo)

By MIKE SCHOEFFEL

The Liberty Hill baseball team turned in its second consecutive promising performance in a tournament, winning all three of its games at the Llano Tournament this past weekend.

The Panthers defeated Big Spring, Marble Falls, and Comfort by a combined score of 24-7. Head coach Mike Kristan’s pitching staff and offensive operated at peak efficiency for the majority of the three-day stretch. Liberty Hill’s hurlers combined to allow just four earned runs in 19 innings of work, while the offense batted a cool .385.

Coupled with their 3-1 finish at the Marble Falls Hill Country Classic two weekends ago, the Panthers have now won six of seven games after dropping the season opener in a memorably cold and windy game against Boerne on Feb. 23.

Kristan was pleased with the way his team swung the bats.

“We hit well against what we faced,” he said. “We didn’t see outstanding pitching this weekend — the pitching we see in our district will be much better — but we were successful against what was thrown at us.”

Kristan said he was particularly keen on his team’s aggressive baserunning. He noted several instances in which players took an extra base when they opted to be conservative. Sure, several players were thrown out trying to push the envelope, but Kristan said he’s “Okay with that, as long as it’s a smart play.”

“We like to steal bases and take an extra bag when we can,” he said. “We took the extra base when balls were in the dirt. We scored on a past ball that wasn’t more than a few steps away from the catcher.

“Playing like that puts a lot of pressure on the opposing team,” he added.

Connor Thompson had a particularly strong showing at the plate, finishing the weekend with five hits in eight at bats (.625) and two RBI. Slater Foust had a triumphant return to the line-up, collecting five hits in nine at bats (.556) while driving in a team high four runs.

All told, 11 Panthers ended the weekend with an average of .333 or better.

“We have some depth,” said Kristan. “I don’t doubt that most of the kids on the roster could step up and do just fine in a starting role. Good teams have a fall-back plan, and the beauty of these early season tournaments is that a lot of players et a chance to prove what they can do.”

Foust and Nathan Flake led a pitching staff that suffered nary a weak moment. Foust hurled a complete game in a 9-1 win over Marble Falls, striking out nine without giving up an earned run. Flake threw six innings against Comfort, striking out seven in a 7-2 victory.

One of the less-heralded pitching performances came in a 8-4 win over Big Spring on Saturday. Turner Gryseels, Luke Alexander, and Jarret Huddleston each fulfilled specific roles, combining to strike out nine batters in the five-inning victory.

“I’m the king of utilizing players in roles that fit their skill set,” said Kristan. “We’ve started about six different pitchers in eight games. Some kids will thrown an inning or two, here or there. Another kid might get an at-bat in a key spot of come on an a courtesy runner.”

“Everyone is going to make an impact,” he said. “Different roles for different folks.”

Liberty Hill will compete in the East Travis County Tournament this weekend. The Panthers have five games scheduled, the first of which is against Manor, at Manor, at 10 a.m. on Thursday.

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