Panthers get best of Rouse in first baseball scrimmage

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By Lance Catchings

The Liberty Hill baseball season got underway Saturday, as did Steven Hutcherson’s tenure as Liberty Hill’s head baseball coach.

The season began as Leander Rouse came to Liberty Hill for a 12-inning scrimmage on a warm Saturday afternoon. No official statistics were kept, but Liberty Hill edged Rouse in runs 12-11 when it was all said and done. Hutcherson said for their first time out, he couldn’t have asked for much more.

Energy was something Hutcherson wanted to bring to the program, and that showed Saturday. The Panthers could be heard from the dugout calling signals, and players on the field could be heard communicating, but Hutcherson said it can always get better.

“I felt our energy level was good,” he said. “I think that some of what we’re learning is how to be energetic. It is a thing that if a team has never naturally been energetic, they’re having to work to learn that it is a process. There were times where we couldn’t have been any more energized, and there were times where we hit that hole where you are searching for energy. Those things will get better over time, and it just takes learning how to be energetic the right way.”

Hutcherson rotated pitchers by inning from the seniors to underclassman relievers. He wanted his players to get a feel for the game in this early evaluation process.

“Right now, one of our big emphases for our pitchers is to get in and see how many strikes they can throw,” he said. “It may lead to innings where we give up hits sometimes, but that happens. One thing we are trying to get out of our pitchers is them feeling like they must do it on their own. It is not them against the world. It is them and the seven guys behind them against one hitter. Eight-on-one is good odds, but 1-on-1 is when they feel like they must start making perfect pitches, and they can’t really attack. That is one of the things we are trying to get them to work through and be more aggressive, throwing strikes without fearing the other team putting the ball in play.”

Defensively, the Panthers looked sharp early on. They made routine plays look routine, and the outfielders had a handle on things. Communication is an area that was improved, but Hutcherson believes still needs some work.

“I thought our defense played well and was one of our bright spots,” he said. “Most of the time, we made routine plays. Our communication was a little bit of an issue. We had some times where we were not communicating well enough, and all of that is a total package when it comes to defense. You can’t get out there and be silent and be a good defensive team. You must communicate and know where you need to be defensively. We had a strong showing, but a coach’s expectations are that we make every play. Whether that is fair or not, that is our expectation, so there is still plenty of room for improvement.”

Baserunning was a highlight for Liberty Hill, as well, on Saturday. The team had nearly 14 stolen bases in the scrimmage.

“If you have offense, defense and special teams in football, I believe that baserunning is kind of our special teams (in baseball),” Hutcherson said. “It is an area where we can separate ourselves from other teams. If we can learn how to be aggressive and learn how to take extra bases, that will be a great help.”

At the plate, Liberty Hill fought hard, but Hutcherson said they must get better at playing the mental part of the game. With the talent on the roster, hitting should not be an issue, but Hutcherson believes it is the area that needs the most improvement.

“My biggest critique may be that we were a little too amped up for our own good,” he said. “We pulled a bunch of balls foul, and that is usually an indicator that you’re not being patient. Typically, the batter is trying to jump at pitchers and not hitting the ball where it is pitched. It is usually not a physical thing, but how we can change our approach, mentally, to make us a good hitting team? The tools are there, so as a coach, that can be a little frustrating. We must get them to understand that the part of the game between the ears matters just as much as the guy that is there swinging the bat.”

Liberty Hill scrimmaged Round Rock Westwood Tuesday night, as well, and will scrimmage Manor Friday night. Hutcherson said he wants to see offensive adjustments in their next few scrimmages.

“How do we take our physical tools that are pretty good and adjust as hitters to what the pitcher is doing?” Hutcherson said. “That is where we must understand the game well enough to take advantage of it. We must continue to throw strikes and play defense, but we need to adjust offensively. If we can do that, then things will take care of themselves.”

The Panthers open the regular season Feb. 19 against Boerne.

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