Panthers clinch District title with extra-inning comeback
By Taylor Grafft
It’s a story that writes itself. With a District title on the line for the Liberty Hill Panthers baseball team, a senior stepped up on Senior/Parent Night against Llano Tuesday and delivered in the biggest moment of his career by hitting a walk-off single in extra innings to give his team a 4-3 victory and a District title.
For senior Colt Stofle, who did not have a plate appearance in the Panthers’ previous district game against Gatesville, to be willing to step up in that high pressure situation and come through with a clutch hit speaks volumes about his character.
Liberty Hill and Coach Mike Kristan featured 11 seniors on their roster that would be playing their final regular season home game in a Panther uniform. Seniors Travis Gipson, Cody Remore, Alex Rosales, Colt Stofle, Kannon Prior, Colby Schmidt, Stephen Greenlees, Tristan Heidelberg, Tyler Vickers, Jake Stalder and Mason Baty were all playing in their final district home game. Seven seniors were featured in Coach Kristan’s starting lineup.
It was Coach Kristan’s third consecutive district title with a 9-1 district record as the Panthers finished their regular season with a 22-5 overall record.
After the Panthers fell behind 3-0 in the second inning, it was beginning to look like an uphill battle against a team that the Panthers had previously shut out 7-0 earlier in the season. There was also a good possibly of the Panthers having to share the district title with Llano and play a seeding game for the number one seed.
But great teams and great players come through in times when everyone else doubts them or counts them out. In the bottom of the third the Panthers started to rally and string together base runners.
“It’s easy to quit when you already know you’re in the playoffs, but to come back and find a way to win is special,” said Coach Kristan. “It’s a pretty special group of players that believe in each other. Cody (Remore), Kannon (Prior), and Colby (Schmidt) are guys that have been on varsity since they were sophomores and won three district championships in a row. It tells a lot about the character of this team.”
Senior Tyler Vickers started the third inning by drawing a walk. Sophomore Slater Foust singled to center field in the Panthers’ next at-bat. Senior Jake Stalder then doubled to left to score Vickers for the Panthers’ first run of the inning.
Senior Colby Schmidt then hit a sacrifice fly to center field that allowed courtesy runner David Nash to tag from third for the second run of the inning. Senior Tristan Heidelberg drew a walk in the Panthers’ next at-bat. Then with one out and runners on first and third, senior Mason Baty hit a hard grounder up the middle to score Stalder and tie the game, 3-3.
The rest of the game was a pitching battle between Marshall Brown and Llano’s Taylor Sorenson. Both pitchers held their opponent’s lineups scoreless and forced extra innings.
But for the second consecutive game, the Panthers came through and won in extra innings. The Panthers started the bottom of the eighth with two early outs. In the next at-bat, Baty stepped up to the plate and was hit by the pitcher to take first base. David Nash then came in as the courtesy runner for Baty at first base.
With loads of pressure on Stofle’s shoulders, with two outs, the senior singled to shallow center field and Nash took off running. As Nash was advancing to third and the Llano outfielder overthrew his third basemen, Nash came home to score the winning run.
Baty, Schmidt, and Stalder each finished the game with a run batted in. Nash finished the game with two runs scored. Brown finished the game as the winning pitcher after he pitched five scoreless innings and struck out eight batters. Brown allowed no hits and walked one batter in relieving sophomore starter Foust.
It was a similar situation to the game against Gatesville April 17 in which the Panthers won 2-1 in extra innings. Foust hit a leadoff single to right to begin the eighth inning. Stalder then reached on a bunt to the pitcher. Schmidt then drew a walk to load the bases for the Panthers with no outs.
Heidelberg then used his excellent vision and plate awareness to draw a walk and give the Panthers a walk-off base on balls victory.
According to Coach Kristan, the Panthers will play Glenn Rose in their first matchup of the playoffs, but the teams must wait for Glenn Rose to finish out its season (Glenn Rose final district game is Monday, April 28) before they can schedule a date and time to play the games.