Softball beats Salado, Llano in midst of 5-game win streak

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By Keith Sparks

On Tuesday, the Panther softball team beat Llano in a shutout that was much closer than the 5-0 final score makes it seem. Liberty Hill held a 1-0 lead until the bottom of the sixth inning, when their batters finally got a hold of Llano’s pitcher to score four runs in the inning.

“Bottom of the sixth, we started making some adjustments,” Coach Kristen Brewer said. “We just adjusted really late. She pitched a lot slower than even what we remembered from last time, and we were just way ahead of the ball. We kept reaching and trying to attack too soon, instead of letting the ball get to us. We challenged them, tried to hit to right field, but we were still just anxious. They just wanted to hit so bad. It’s just having the patience to be able to wait.”

Logan Oehler led off the sixth inning and got a base hit, followed by a base hit from Carissa Garza and a walk by Ashton Dirner. With the bases loaded, Abby Covington hit a well-timed double to score two runs for the Panthers. Jessika Truax followed up with a single that scored another run, as did Kandyn Faurie before the inning was over.

Brewer said the balance between being aggressive at the plate and being patient enough to hit slower pitches is something they work on in practice, and is a sign of a good hitter.

“It’s all part of being a good hitter,” Brewer said. “We practice it in the cages and things like that. It kind of depends on who we’re playing, how we run our hitting practice. We try to treat those slower balls like change-ups and mix them in between our pitches, so we’re not totally falling off because we just practice for slow, then we’re going to have to start all over again. Then starting with more placement hitting, seeing the ball and if it’s an outside pitch, letting it get a lot deeper to you and consciously trying to hit to right field, versus pulling the ball.”

Garza and Truax each finished with two hits, while Covington, Faurie, Ireland Sargent, Cheyenne Floyd, and Oehler came away with one apiece.

Covington pitched the entirety of Tuesday’s game, striking out 12 batters and allowing only two hits and one walk.

On April 13, the Panthers got through nearly five full innings against Salado before a lightning strike nearby forced athletes, coaches, and everybody in attendance to leave the stadium with the Panthers up 3-0 at the time. The teams stuck around until close to 10:30 before deciding to postpone the rest of the game until Saturday as hail began to fall.

At 11 a.m. on April 14, the game started exactly as it was when it was postponed the night before. The Panthers were up to bat with two outs and runners on first and third. Liberty Hill immediately scored as Salado’s pitcher threw a wild pitch that got past the catcher, and the Panthers were able to build momentum from there.

“Their pitcher came back out and she just wasn’t as on,” Brewer said. “She struggled a little bit from the beginning. We scored right off the bat on a passed ball, a wild pitch, but we started hitting her a lot more than we did the night before. We were just seeing her a lot better.”

Salado’s frustrations got the best of them, according to Brewer, as it became clear that the umpire’s strike zone had shifted from the night before.

“The umpire did change his strike zone a little bit, but it was for both teams,” Brewer said. “He wasn’t calling outside pitches as much, even some that were pretty decent strikes, he wouldn’t call them. I think Salado kind of got frustrated with how the umpire called behind the plate, so threw more inside, which is what we liked.”

The Panthers finished the 5-2 victory with 14 hits, as Truax went three for four at the plate, Garza went two for three, and Covington and Faurie each went two for four. Dirner, Sargent, Floyd, Oehler, and Carissa Vickers each got hits, as well.

Covington also pitched the entirety of last Friday and Saturday’s game, throwing five strikeouts and allowing three hits and four walks.

On Friday, the Panthers will play their final regular season game away against Lampasas at 6:45 p.m. before the playoffs begin.

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