Panthers show offensive improvement in Westwood scrimmage

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By Lance Catchings
The Panther baseball team had a strong showing in their first scrimmage, but Head Coach Steven Hutcherson said his team needed to improve at the plate. He got that improvement on Feb. 5 when the Panthers outlasted Round Rock Westwood 9-6 in their second scrimmage of the season.

At the plate, Liberty Hill looked sharp as they made the most of their offensive opportunities.

“We looked like we had a better plan at the plate, and we hit the ball harder,” Hutcherson said. “Ryan Leary and Ryan Flake both hit home runs for us off good at-bats. Leary’s was on a 2-0 curveball, and most guys won’t even swing at that, and he hit it out left center. Flake hit one off right center, and his came off the ninth pitch at bat. I thought up and down the lineup that everyone had a better plan. It didn’t net a ton of hits, necessarily, but it is what we will have to do against better hitting and pitching teams.”

Hutcherson believes that successful batting comes from a combination of being aggressive and mentally sharp.

“I want us to be aggressive at the plate, but also have a good plan,” he said. “Leary’s approach was locked in. He stayed between the gaps, and he was the first hitter of the game. That is what we want to be as an offensive team. We are trying to get our players to understand that if the first time they start paying attention is when they are in the batter’s box, then you are too late. When you are in the dugout and we have guys at the plate, we should be mentally having at-bats. When you are on deck, you should be having an at-bat with the guy in the box. Once you step in the box, you should be ready to go. I feel like the only hitter that is at a disadvantage is the very first hitter of the game. Every hitter after him really has no excuse, because they have guys in front of them they can watch. We want to be energetic, but that also means being focused on every pitch.”

Pitching for the Panthers this season should be a strong point, and it should be enjoyable for Liberty Hill fans to watch. Liberty Hill once again rotated pitchers by inning as Hutcherson lets his players get a feel for the game during last Tuesday’s scrimmage.

“When it comes to pitching, I thought we did really well,” he said. “We had one inning where they had some balls fall in and they had a guy hit one out and they scored three runs off that. If you take that inning away, they didn’t do much at all. Even in that inning I was happy because we threw strikes. We played nine innings and probably walked less than five guys. We struck out the first eight of their nine hitters and the ninth hit a weak fly ball to centerfield. I thought it was close to what our pitching staff can be.”

The goal Hutcherson has for his pitching rotation is to get in and out of innings as quickly as possible.

“Our goal was to get out innings in the neighborhood of 12 pitches,” he said. “We achieved that for the most part. We are top heavy as a pitching staff, but we can only be successful if everyone we run out there is someone that we trust. It just can’t be two or three guys that we must lean on. We are finding out how many guys on our roster can go get an out, or three outs or six outs.”

Feb. 5 was Liberty Hill’s first time playing on a natural grass surface so far this season, and it comes with a learning curve for those that typically play on artificial turf.

“Our defense may not have looked as good as the first scrimmage, but that was to be expected,” Hutcherson said. “It was our first time taking balls on a natural surface this year. We will have to be able to make that adjustment when we play on a natural surface. It lets us know we need to lock in a bit better when we play on a natural surface. It was a good learning experience for us.”

Hutcherson will continue to evaluate and tweak his lineup throughout scrimmages and possibly the first few games. Hutcherson’s belief is that every player on his roster needs to find their role and take it seriously. As a coach who has won a State Championship, he knows that every piece will be important the further you get down the road.

“For the guys that may not be every-inning guys right now, we just have to define their roles, and everybody has one,” he said. “If you have a 20-man roster, then every player from one to 20 should have a role. That is part of the evaluation process for us. We are trying to find out who are our best defenders, who can lay down bunts and who are our best base runners. You will at some point nail down a starting nine, but after about your 12th guy, you need role players. Who can come in and contribute for us? The guys who may not be every-inning guys still have a crucial role in us being successful.”

Liberty Hill’s scheduled scrimmage against Manor on Feb. 8 was canceled due to weather conditions. The Panthers host scrimmages against Marble Falls Friday at 7 p.m. and Leander Glenn on Saturday at 1 p.m.

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