Panthers win series against Eastside, improve to 4-0

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By Lance Catchings

The varsity baseball team continued its run this week, dispatching district opponents left and right. The Panthers faced district opponent Eastside Memorial in a back-to-back series last Friday night at home and Tuesday night in Austin. The Panthers got routine results as they pushed their win streak to 14 and their overall record to 19-3-1 (4-0).

Liberty Hill downed Eastside Memorial last Friday 13-0 in a shortened five inning game due to the mercy rule. The Panthers then traveled to Austin Tuesday and came away with an 8-1 victory on the road.

Head Coach Steven Hutcherson wanted to make sure his team did not have a letdown following the Salado series.

“Practice leading up to the Eastside Memorial series was good for the most part,” Hutcherson said. “We spent a lot of energy against Salado, and rightly so, because they can beat you. We still seemed excited to play and some guys got some opportunities that had not really gotten to play in a while. It felt like we kept everything moving in the right direction and everyone got to contribute.”

Tuesday night in Austin, the Panthers had another offensive explosion, but it did not come until the top of the seventh inning as Eastside Memorial played Liberty Hill much tighter than they did last Friday. Liberty Hill picked up one run in the first and one run in the fifth and led 2-1 heading into the seventh inning. The Panthers belted off six runs in the final inning to stretch their lead and put the game out of reach.

“We missed some opportunities to score in the earlier part of the game, but pitched well and played good defense to keep the lead,” Hutcherson said. “In the seventh, we were finally able to put some good swings together consecutively and guys that weren’t getting hits found ways to get on. A couple of two-out hits really helped in putting the game away.”

The Panthers ran out four pitchers in Wyatt Cheney, Kaden Dydalewicz, Garrett Shull and Mason Stearns, who combined to allow three hits, one run and struck out nine.

Last Friday, Liberty Hill came out swinging in the bottom of the first inning by belting off seven runs. Seniors Dydalewicz and Cheney both hit home runs in the first inning.

“We got guys on early and we did a good job of not changing anything,” Hutcherson said. “We had a big swing by Kaden Dydalewicz, who hit a homerun in the first, and then Wyatt Cheney came out and hit one. They went back-to-back on two straight pitches. After that, Matthew Thompson comes in and hits a double. Nobody wanted to stop the rally and we batted around. Our guys had good at-bats all the way through. Sometimes, if you have a big inning, sometimes guys will give a bat away because you’ve had a big inning, but we did not do that. We had good, consistent contact throughout the game, and when we didn’t get good pitches, we laid back.”

Liberty Hill picked up 10 hits and 11 RBIs in only four innings of play. Matthew Thompson pitched five innings and allowed four hits, no runs and struck out nine.

“Thompson pitched well in all regards,” Hutcherson said. “The benefactor of scoring runs early was it let him go out and really attack the strike zone. If he gave up a couple hits, we could still get out of it. The consistent thing through the first part of district has been our pitching and our defense. Our offense has scored enough, but if you get good pitching and defense, all you need is to make sure you don’t get shut out.”

Last Friday also served as Senior Night for 13 Panthers, and Hutcherson has been very vocal about where his program stands when it comes to senior players.

“Early in the year, I tried to hammer home to our seniors that we would be as successful as they make us,” he said. “It does not always mean your seniors are always your best players, but they are your most important group. They are the ones that everyone rallies around. They must feel like we can do something special, and that is what this group has done. They are enjoying the game, but also enjoying that this could be special if we continue to do things the right way. Our seniors have kept everyone up to a standard in practices and games. When players start leading the team, that’s usually when teams become pretty good. Coaches have their role, but the players have to go out and get each other going.”

On Friday, the Panthers put their win streak and undefeated district record on the line when they travel to Taylor to face the Ducks. This will be the first time this season the Panthers open a district series away from home.

The Panthers will host Taylor April 9, which will be Teacher Appreciation Night. The team will travel to Burnet to start their fourth district series April 12.

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