LHHS sweeps Sinton in regional semifinals
By Lance Catchings
The Liberty Hill baseball team (32-3-1) knew it needed a strong effort to defeat Sinton (31-10) in the regional semifinal playoff round, and that is exactly what they got.
Liberty Hill defeated Sinton in a two-game sweep, 5-2 last Thursday night and 6-2 Saturday afternoon.
“Going in, I thought we matched up well with Sinton and it would be a good series,” said Head Coach Steven Hutcherson. “They have a lot of history, and it takes a good effort to get to this point in the playoffs, and you have your work cut out for you. I felt if we threw strikes and played good defense, we could find ways to score.”
Not only did the Panthers have to deal with a formidable opponent at St. Mary’s University in San Antonio, they also had to deal with a strong headwind.
“The hard part of playing at a large field in St. Mary’s is there was a strong wind coming straight to the plate,” Hutcherson said. “The pitcher can trust he can throw right down the middle, because you can hit a ball well and it’s not going to go anywhere. That means you must put it all together, because you can’t sit around and wait on a double or a triple to score runs.”
In game one, Liberty Hill took a 3-0 lead in the top of the first and controlled the game throughout. The Panthers add another two runs in the top of the fifth for a 5-0 lead midway through the contest. Sinton scored two runs in the bottom of the seventh, but the damage had already been done.
LHHS took the 5-2 victory on four hits while committing two errors. Senior Wyatt Cheney took the win on the mound, pitching six innings while allowing one run and striking out seven. Garret Shull pitched one inning, allowing two runs on two hits.
Game two was a grind of a game on both sides with no runs scored until the bottom of the fourth inning. In the bottom of the fourth with two outs, Ryan Leary reached first base for the Panthers on a single. After that, it was the aggressiveness of the Panthers that paid off.
“On a two-strike count, Leary took off to steal second and Kaden Dydalewicz hit a double,” Hutcherson said. “Since Leary was already running on the pitch, he scored from first on the double, which gave us the 1-0 lead.”
Sinton answered right back to score two runs in the top of the fifth inning to take a 2-1 lead. Sinton scored on a single and a bunt to score their two runs.
“We started the next inning with an error, which you never want to do,” Hutcherson said. “Sinton had some good hitters in the top of their lineup, and they managed to get a hit and get runners on first and third. When they went up, it was a good atmosphere and they had a lot of fans that were loud.”
Liberty Hill then responded with a five-run inning in the bottom of the sixth. After two walks and a well-executed bunt by the Panthers, they found themselves with the bases loaded and no outs.
“Sinton made a pitching change in that inning,” Hutcherson said. “The pitcher they put in, I got the opportunity to watch in their prior series. I knew he could get wild and told our guys not to swing at bad pitches.”
Senior Cole Alexander then drew a walk and a run scored to tie the game, then Kory Schmidt drew a walk and another run scored to take the 3-2 lead. That was all the breathing room the Panthers needed.
“It was one of those things where our batters knew the strike zone and did not chase bad pitches,” Hutcherson said. “They did not let the moment get too big and they waited on good pitches. We were able to get runs in that way. In the momentum of things, it was fun because our fans were in it. It was a slow roar with every pitch, and it was a great atmosphere.”
Liberty Hill went on to score five runs in the inning and take the 6-2 win. The Panthers gathered eight hits in the game while recording only one error. Dydalewicz took the win on the mound, pitching five innings and allowing four hits, two runs and striking out nine. Ryan Flake pitched two innings, allowing two hits, no runs and striking out one.
With the win, the Panthers made history by advancing to the regional final playoff round where they will face La Vernia.