PANTHER OF THE WEEK: Leary nearly sparks comeback for Panthers
By Lance Catchings
Sophomore leadoff hitter Ryan Leary is a two-year letterman and was the only starting freshman for the Panthers last season as a shortstop, taking over for teammate Wyatt Cheney while he was on the mound.
This season, Leary took his game to the next level by becoming a more versatile player during Liberty Hill’s run to the regional finals. Leary played infield, outfield and made standout plays look routine along the way.
Head Coach Steven Hutcherson said Leary’s versatility and maturity is what can turn a good player into a special player.
“Anytime you have a young guy, you want them to mature as a player in the way they handle things,” Hutcherson said. “In the early part of the year when things did not go well for him, he did not know how to respond. He is a fiery, emotional player, and as we got further into the year, he started to understand how to handle his emotions. He learned how to manage that better, and that is just part of the maturity process. He is probably the next guy in line that those big schools will come after, and he has a good shot to do it. This has been a valuable year of experience for him, and he will be counted on next season.”
Leary quickly bought into the program’s mission in the offseason, saying his only goal was to give 100 percent effort every day.
“Coming into this season, when we realized how good we were, our big goal was to win State,” Leary said. “We just wanted to be successful in every game and go out and play our best every time we could. I knew this year we had a great opportunity. I know the next couple years will also be good, but this year, I felt we had something special. I just wanted to go out every day and give 100 percent and see what happens. Everybody bought into the program and what we were trying to accomplish.”
As a leadoff hitter, Leary said his goal was simply to make the jobs of those that followed him in the lineup easier. In addition to beating leadoff, Leary was also a solid outfielder for the Panthers throughout the postseason.
“I think my greatest strength this season was consistency,” he said. “I led off the whole year, and I felt like I did well there. I just tried to hand off to the guys behind me in the lineup to do their jobs. This year, playing multiple positions I believe was a strength, and I wasn’t the only player. Many of my teammates could have played anywhere on the field, as well. It helped us in the long run, because we were athletic enough to do those types of things on the field.”
In the game three regional final loss to La Vernia, down 5-0, Leary doubled and later scored to help spark a sixth-inning rally that saw the Panthers close the gap to 5-4.
“Headed into that at-bat, we were down 5-0 and my mentality was just to get the runner over,” he said. “The main thing was just to get on base. I wasn’t trying to do too much, and if we got base runners, we knew things would start happening. After that inning, everyone was telling each other that the game is not over. It is not over until the last out, and everybody was trying to go as hard as they could.”
As one of the seven returners to come back for next season and one of the most experienced players on the roster, Leary understands that his role on the team will continue to grow.
“The returners we have coming back will have to lead by example,” he said. “The underclassmen we have coming up are pretty good, so if we can get them with the mindset that we all had this year, then the baseball part of it will take care of itself. Myself, Rowen Guerra, Jackson Knox and Ryan Flake have to make sure we take on those leadership roles and pass those down to the underclassmen we have coming up.”
This season, the Panthers finished with a 32-5-1 record and the furthest postseason run in Panther baseball history.