Junkin living out childhood dream as Lady Panther pitcher

Pitcher Sam Junkin at the mound in Liberty Hill on recent wintery night of softball. (Kathy Canady Photo)

Pitcher Sam Junkin at the mound in Liberty Hill on recent wintery night of softball. (Kathy Canady Photo)

By Taylor Grafft

For Liberty Hill junior softball pitcher Sam Junkin the dream of being the starting pitcher for the Liberty Hill Lady Panthers softball team started at a young age.

Her journey to the top started when Junkin watched her mother, Jamie Junkin, coach in a State tournament as a kid.

Junkin remembered seeing her mother’s starting pitcher in that State tournament and immediately idolizing and wanting to be like her. Junkin and her mother have been close as she has been a mentor and coach for Junkin since T-ball and all the way through high school.

Her mother would even take Junkin to the University of Texas softball games, as they would watch Texas softball legend Cat Osterman pitch for the Longhorns. Watching Osterman further enticed Junkin’s dream of being a starting softball pitcher.

When Junkin finally arrived on the Liberty Hill varsity team in her freshman year of high school, the team made the State tournament. The team was led by the leadership of Kourtney Bevers, who was and is an idol and mentor to Junkin.

“Kourtney was a big deal and great athlete at Liberty Hill, so it was exciting and humbling to have her as a mentor,” said Junkin. “She’s given me advice and told me that it was my turn to be the leader and keep everyone focused.”

Junkin says she tries to take on that leadership role, passed onto her by Bevers, by always keeping a good attitude, being positive, playing her role, and setting a good example for her younger teammates.

The road to the top for Junkin wasn’t always easy and was met with a few hardships and struggles. In eighth grade, Junkin injured her ankle and missed most of the season, including the ability to participate in the other sports she was involved in, basketball and volleyball. In Junkin’s sophomore year, she decided to give up playing basketball and volleyball to focus solely on being a softball pitcher.

“That decision to give up those sports was tough, especially since I love basketball,” she said. “But I had to think about injuries and working myself too hard. My goal is to play softball at the college level and to do that I have to focus on softball and protect my body.”

One of the ways that Junkin will achieve that goal of playing softball at the next level could be leading her team back to the State tournament. Junkin also has experience behind her, as quite a few of her teammates were a part of the State tournament team when they were freshman.

Getting back to the State tournament won’t be easy for the Liberty Hill Lady Panthers, but Junkin and her teammates have started the season 13-4 and are on the right track. This is one of the most complete softball teams that Coach Charice Hankins has fielded, with the team being strong in all three important categories—hitting, pitching and fielding.

Junkin is constantly faced with having to balance a busy schedule as she tries to focus on school work, softball, and having a social life. She is also involved in select softball in the offseason, Fellowship of Christian Athletes and National Honor Society, so she doesn’t get a break during the year.

Earlier this season, Liberty Hill played Elgin in a non-district game at home. Elgin head Coach Amanda Wolf is actually Junkin’s pitching coach and has been a huge role model and mentor for Junkin as well.

“She always has a good attitude and supports me in every step of the way,” Junkin said. “She’s broken a lot of the Elgin softball records and we’re very close. She’s like a big sister and mentor to me. We’re not just close on the field and during practices, but off the field as well.”

This season Junkin is focusing on being the best teammate she can be and helping to lead her team as far into the post season as she can. One of the important pieces of advice her mother gave her, that Junkin remembers when she is out pitching in the circle is a simple phrase.

“Focus on every pitch, and win every batter,” Junkin said. “It’s something I constantly tell myself during every game. If you focus on every pitch and win every batter, they can’t beat you.”