Panthers blow out Mustangs, 18-0
By Scott Akanewich
On an evening which began with a sun-splashed field for Liberty Hill’s district road game against Marble Falls on Tuesday night, the contest’s quality degenerated as quickly as the weather did in an 18-0 Panthers victory over the Mustangs which was called after five innings due to the 10-run rule.
Jackson Knox went 3-for-4 with a double and a run batted in on a night which saw six Liberty Hill players drive in a pair of runs, including Kash Durkin, who hit a towering two-run homer down the right-field line in the first and a triple which banged off the metal fence in left-center, just missing another long ball, by a few feet in the third.
Andon Thomas, Logan Dyer, Kade Neuenschwander, Everett Huddleston and Garrett Neeley all drove in a two runs each, in addition to Durkin, who hit his first home run of the season.
After the Panthers had defeated the Mustangs by a 13-3 score in the first meeting of the clubs this season, one might’ve expected more of the same in the rematch and that’s exactly what the wind-blown crowd got as the game continued on into the night.
With his team in the midst of a battle for its playoff lives, Liberty Hill head coach Steve Hutcherson said a blowout was the last thing the Panthers needed to stay sharp at this point, but he wasn’t worried about a lack of focus on the part of his players.
“I didn’t worry about coming down here for this game,” he said. “My only concern was we approached it the right way.”
Not even an injury sustained in warm-ups to senior shortstop and leadoff man Ryan Leary could slow the Liberty Hill offense down, as stand-in Ty Maldonado – who has largely been used exclusively as a courtesy runner this year with only eight at-bats all season – led off the game with a single to left, bringing Thomas to the plate, who skied a long foul ball down the right-field line before singling in Maldonado with a base hit to right and a 1-0 lead only two batters into the proceedings.
After Thomas stole second, Knox singled to center, leaving runners on the corners for Dyer, who placed a bunt far enough away from the plate to allow Thomas to motor home and Knox to advance to second.
Neuenschwander flied out to left, which brought Durkin up for his big blow and a 4-0 Panthers lead.
After having to wait out a long top of the first, Liberty Hill right-hander Conner Sherburn took the mound after his teammates had already staked him to all the offense he would need before ever throwing a pitch.
Sherburn got the win with three innings of work, allowing only one hit and striking out two before Cole Jefferson closed the game with two scoreless frames, giving up only a single hit while picking up a pair of strikeouts in the junior’s first appearance in five weeks after battling injury and illness.
Liberty Hill build its lead to 10-0 after the top of the third, then exploded for eight runs in the fourth – six of them plated with two outs – an inning which featured four doubles, including a Huddleston drive to left which drove in a pair of runs in only his fourth at-bat of the campaign.
In all, 13 batters came to the plate for the Panthers in the inning which saw the Liberty Hill bench emptied, including senior Ryan Rhoden getting his first at-bat of the season.
Hutcherson said it was good to be able to get his backups some playing time.
“It’s good to be able to reward those guys,” he said. “We always want to keep them engaged.”
Liberty Hill (19-9-1, 7-4) remains in fifth in the district standings after Rouse defeated East View on Tuesday, 2-1, along with Georgetown’s 15-6 win over Leander and Cedar Park’s 5-4 victory over Glenn created a four-way tie for first, with the Raiders, Lions, Timberwolves and Eagles deadlocked at 8-3, leaving the Panthers a game behind with three to play.
Next up for Liberty Hill is a home game against Leander on Friday, followed by another with Georgetown on April 27 before closing out the regular season at Glenn on April 30.