Milam pitches gem in Panther loss

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By Scott Akanewich
Sports Editor

Liberty Hill got exactly what it needed from freshman Blaze Milam in its home district contest against Leander on Friday.

However, despite a complete-game effort in which the rookie right-hander allowed only three hits and two runs over seven innings, the Panthers still lost to the Lions by a score of 2-1.

“When you get a game pitched that well, you deserve to go home with a win,” said Liberty Hill head coach Steve Hutcherson, of Milam’s brilliant 93-pitch performance during which he hurled 16 first-pitch strikes to the 27 batters he faced on the evening.

Only problem for the Panthers was the fact Leander starter Garrett Landry was just about as effective as his opposite number, as the Lions’ senior also went the distance in throwing 111 pitches while keeping the Liberty Hill hitters off balance all night.

“He was pitching backwards, starting off with breaking balls, which got our hitters guessing,” said Hutcherson. “We just couldn’t get the bit hit when we needed it.”

Indeed, the Panthers left multiple runners on base, including in the second and third innings, when they left the bases loaded and men on second and third, respectively.

But, before those missed opportunities, Kash Durkin came through with a single to right on a 3-2 pitch from Landry in the second, which plated Logan Dyer, who had led off with a base hit then stole second and advanced to third on a passed ball, for a 1-0 Liberty Hill lead.

The game remained at 1-0 until the top of the sixth, when with two outs, Milam walked Lions’ No. 2 hitter Noah Ruen, bringing Dyron Dixon to the plate, who slashed a double down the right-field line which sliced away from Jack Stavinoha, allowing Ruen to score all the way from first, sliding just under the tag at home plate by Garrett Neeley after a pinpoint relay from second baseman Jackson Knox to tie the game at 1-1.

But, Milam bore down to strike Landry out to end the inning, stranding the go-ahead run on second.

The Panthers’ inability to strike with runners in scoring position reared its ugly head once again in the sixth.

Kade Neuenschwander banged a one-out single to center, then courtesy runner Ty Maldonado advanced to second on Durkin’s grounder to first, only to be left there when Chase Maxwell struck out swinging to end the inning.

Milam made a rare mistake in the seventh when he hit leadoff man Caden Sisson with a 3-2 pitch, who was then sacrificed to second, which brought Major Maydon to the plate, who rocketed a shot right back at Milam, taking the pitcher’s glove right off his hand, then deflecting to Knox, who fielded the ball right in front of second base and made a rushed throw to Durkin at first, who expertly scooped the low ball out of the dirt for the out.

Leander’s Eddie Speer then stepped in and battled Milam through a nine-pitch at-bat before grounding sharply to Ryan Leary deep in the hole at shortstop, who fielded the ball cleanly, but made a high throw to Durkin at first, who leaped for the ball, caught it and tagged Speer on the way down, but not before he had beaten the throw for an infield single, which drove home courtesy runner Jaron Cotton with the go-ahead run and a 2-1 lead.

So, despite Milam’s heroic effort, the Panthers were down to their last three outs to get their starter off the hook and rescue victory from defeat.

Stavinoha led off with a looping drive which seemed destined to elude Leander second baseman Andrew Buentello and end up in center field for a leadoff single, but the Lions’ infielder made a full-extension lunging catch to his right in making the play for the first out of the inning.

Neeley then struck out on a 3-2 pitch before Leary lined out to right for the final out, leaving Landry to raise both arms in triumph as he walked off the mound and was joined by joyous teammates who had stormed the field from the dugout to celebrate clinching a playoff berth with the win.

But, it wasn’t to be on this night for the home side to further its postseason hopes, as the loss left Liberty Hill (19-10-1, 7-5) in fifth place in the district standings, a game behind Rouse (8-4), who lost to Georgetown, 4-3, on Friday.

Leander, Cedar Park and Georgetown are are tied atop the district at 9-3 with two games remaining for all the teams.
Hutcherson was left to rue his squad’s squandered scoring chances early on in the game.

“I feel like we turned what could’ve been a four-run game into a one-run game,” he said. “We backed ourselves into a corner.”
Dyer went 2-for-3 with a run scored to lead the Liberty Hill offense.

The game marked the second straight 2-1 district defeat for the Panthers – sandwiched around a pair of victories – and in close games such as those, the razor-thin margin for error leaves no room for mistakes, said Hutcherson.

“Tonight we didn’t do some of the things we take pride in as a team,” he said. “Like putting the ball in play with two strikes, taking the extra base and making routine plays.”

Now, the Panthers must win their final two games – at home against Georgetown on Tuesday and at Glenn on April 30 and get help from teams ahead of them in the standings in the form of losses.

But, despite the gloomy atmosphere which hung around the players after the game, which was as heavy as the humidity which enveloped the premises all evening, Hutcherson was determined to not let them hang their heads.

“All we can do is show up and go back to work,” he said. “We still have a chance.”

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