Panthers go 6-0, win Leander Tournament

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By Lance Catchings

After going 1-2-1 two weeks ago at the West Tournament, the Liberty Hill varsity baseball team stormed back to go a perfect 6-0 and claim the Leander Tournament Championship this past weekend.

“The players and I did not feel like we played very well at the West Tournament,” said Head Coach Steven Hutcherson. “We wanted to show that we could play better than we did at that tournament. We wanted more of a complete game with good pitching and better defense.”

With that in mind, the Panthers opened with a 7-0 win over Elgin on Thursday.

“Anytime you throw a shutout against someone, that is always good,” Hutcherson said. “Mason Stearns threw that game and was efficient. He only threw around 80 pitches and threw a complete game. It was our first complete game of the year. The Elgin pitcher was one of the better guys we have seen. We got guys on base and managed to have a big inning that separated us a little bit.”

In their second game on Thursday, Liberty Hill defeated Leander High School 8-2.

“That was another complete effort for us,” Hutcherson said. “Kaden Dydalewicz pitched, and he threw five innings. He really kept Leander in check, and we got some guys on and put pressure on them offensively. Garrett Shull came in and threw well in the last couple innings and kept it where it was. We added a few more runs and controlled the rest of the game.”

Friday morning, the Panthers defeated Goose Creek Memorial out of the Houston area 7-1.

“Wyatt Cheney pitched and threw really good for us,” Hutcherson said. “He threw five innings and did not give up a run. It took us a bit to get going offensively, but finally, we busted through and had a big inning. Wyatt kept us in the game and kept Goose Creek in check.”

Liberty Hill then shutout Pflugerville Weiss 10-0 in their last pool play game.

“Matthew Thompson pitched a complete game, which was shortened due to the run rule,” Hutcherson said. “Thompson really dominated on the mound. He had been a little up and down, but looked like a totally different guy Friday. He threw a bunch of strikes and we started having some good at bats.”

In the tournament semifinal game, Liberty Hill took on Cedar Park. It was a back-and-forth contest that ended with the Panthers on top 6-5.

“We went down 4-2 early in the game, but we scored a run in each of the first three innings to make it 4-3,” Hutcherson said. “In the fifth inning, we hit back-to-back home runs. Pudge Carlisle hit a home run to tie it 4-4 and Cole Alexander hit a home run on the next pitch to make it 5-4. We ended up scoring another run in the inning to make it 6-4. Cedar Park scored a run in the top half of the seventh to make it 6-5, but we got out of the inning. Cedar Park is a good team, but to get down and fight, then change the game with two swings just shows you must stick with it. If you trust you can battle, you can come back, and that was a good thing for us to do.”

In the championship game, Liberty Hill faced perennial baseball powerhouse College Station, but the Panthers would not be denied the tournament title. Liberty Hill got their second comeback win of the tournament with an 8-7 victory.

“Kory Schmidt hit a two-run homer and Ryan Flake hit a two-run double, which were highlights for us in that game,” Hutcherson said. “We got down to College Station 2-0, then we tied it 2-2. They went up 4-2, and then we jumped ahead of them 6-4. They came back and made it 7-6 before we ultimately won it.”

Down 7-6 in the seventh inning, the Panthers relied on their veterans to help pull out the victory.

“We managed to get a guy on with two outs,” Hutcherson said. “Cole Alexander knocked a single through that made it 7-7 in the seventh inning. Pudge Carlisle pitched in the seventh. We came in at the bottom of the seventh and got a leadoff walk from Rowen Guerra. Ryan Flake bunted him over and a wild pitch got him to third. They walked the next two hitters in Jackson Knox and Ryan Leary. We had bases loaded with one out. Pudge got a walk off hit by pitch, and we won 8-7.”

Liberty Hill travels to Giddings Friday for a double-header and will be on the road the following Tuesday night against Fredericksburg. Hutcherson said there is still plenty to work on before the Panthers open district play against Salado at home on March 22.

“It is our last chance to tune up some things,” he said. “We need to fine tune our defense, make sure our pitching stays good and keep getting better each game offensively. Giddings is a game that you should be able to win, but those are the ones that have given us trouble. Fredericksburg, to me, is a huge game, because it is a regional team. A team we know is going to be in the playoffs and one we probably can’t throw our best guys, because we start district that Friday. We need to be able to go over and compete. These will be three big games and let us know anything we need to fix before we open district against Salado.”

Liberty Hill is now 12-3-1 on the season as the team presses on toward District 27-4A play.

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