Seniors look to build on baseball legacy

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By MIKE SCHOEFFEL

There’s no argument among the seniors on Liberty Hill’s baseball team about the two biggest games on the schedule this season.

“Burnet is the team to beat,” said Travis Williamson. “We play a lot of good teams, but I’m looking forward to Burnet for sure.”

Williamson and crew will face their rivals twice this year, as is customary of district scheduling, hosting the Bulldogs on April 5 before traveling into enemy territory on April 22 for the second-to-last regular season game.

“We have a big rivalry with them,” said fellow senior Ryan Rhele. “It stretches back, well, a really long time.”

The other two seniors, Zachary Smith and Ethan Shirey, agreed. Burnet looms largest on the radar. The Panthers were swept by the Bulldogs in 2015, and last beat them on April 11, 2014.

The foursome conceded a number of important games on the schedule — four games total with stiff opponents Taylor and Salado — but agreed the pair of games against Burnet are in a category all their own.

“Hands down, we want to beat Burnet,” confirmed Rhele.

The four seniors were in agreement about a lot of things as they gathered in the dugout after a chilly, season-opening defeat on Feb. 23. They were in good spirits, the promise of a new season not at all tempered by a chilly, windswept loss to visiting Boerne.

The Panthers are just two years removed from a district championship and a trip to the regional semifinal, when they finished two wins shy of qualifying for the state tournament. The seniors on this year’s squad are looking to construct another deep playoff run in 2016.

As Rhele put it: “Hopefully, when we stop playing, there won’t be any more games to be played.”

If that‘s going to happen, senior Zachary Smith believes unity will be the key.

“We need to be a band of brothers instead of a bunch of individual players,” he said. “We need to work as a team and succeed as a team.”

“I know it’s an individual sport,” he added. “But it takes everybody stepping up and doing their part.”

Williamson echoed Smith’s sentiments, saying: “We have to create good team chemistry. We need to build each other up when we’re down.”

Liberty Hill baseball has a legacy of success and a storied coach, Mike Kristan, who won his 200th career game last season. The Class of 2016 is well aware of the history of the program they are expected to lead, and don’t take their job as curators lightly. They want to leave a positive, memorable legacy.

“We want to keep building the program,” said Shirey, who will play at McMurry College next season. “We want to pass down a winning attitude and a great sense of teamwork to the players that come after us.”

Rhele concurred, adding that success won’t necessarily be judged by the team’s final record.

“It’s not all about winning, though that’s important,” he said. “It’s about playing as a team and making sure we’re doing the right things and setting a good example.”

When the rubber meets the road, however, and the promise of a blank parchment unfurls into wins and losses, it all comes down to one thing.

“We just have to go out there and play,” said Williamson. That, and beat Burnet.

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