Panthers eclipse 2016 win total with victories over Burnet, Glenn

Connor Thompson (#4) tries to outrun a throw to first during Liberty Hill’s win over Burnet Tuesday. The Panthers now hold a 16-2 overall record an are a perfect 5-0 in district play. (Alex Rubio Photo)

Connor Thompson (#4) tries to outrun a throw to first during Liberty Hill’s win over Burnet Tuesday. The Panthers now hold a 16-2 overall record an are a perfect 5-0 in district play. (Alex Rubio Photo)

By Paul Livengood

The Panthers entered Tuesday’s game with a 5-3 record against their rival Burnet Bulldogs in the past five seasons, but had lost three of their last four matchups.

Liberty Hill handled business at home on Tuesday with an 11-2 victory over the Bulldogs. The victory was Liberty Hill’s 16th of the season — more wins than the team recorded the entire 2016 season.

“It’s good. I told the kids afterward that it took us an extra game last year to win six district games, so we’ve already won six and we have already won 16 games, which is more than we won last year,” Head Coach Michael Kristan said. “I still say we have a lot more to do. This is just the start.”

The Panthers have established themselves as the team to beat in the district with their 16-2 overall record and perfect 5-0 district record.
Kristan added that the Panthers possess bigger goals than just breaking their win milestone from the previous season. The expectations have been set higher than ever before, and the boys are delivering.

Despite the Panthers’ blowout win, the Bulldogs put themselves on the scoreboard first. Burnet first baseman Dylan King hit a solo shot home run to left field in his first at-bat in the second inning.

“It’s like when we played the last time and we got behind, we knew it was early and we knew we were going to have the firepower, so it worked out well for us,” Kristan said.

Liberty Hill wasn’t fazed by the early Bulldog lead. In the bottom half of that same inning, the Panthers responded with six runs of their own.

Kory Schmidt, Ryan Ray, Chandler Freeman, and Wyatt Cheney all drove in runs, combining for six RBIs.

“My approach to my at-bats was drive in my teammates and do my job,” Schmidt said. “It’s a great feeling to go out and get this win against Burnet, a huge rival, obviously. I’m just glad I could do my job.”

Schmidt added another RBI to his stat sheet in the bottom of the third with an RBI triple to deep right field.
Damian Natividad had a successful night at the plate, as well, batting three for four, including one RBI.

“It felt great,” Natividad said of his night at the plate. “I just waited for those fastballs and tried to stay relaxed. Just have to keep the momentum going.”

All Liberty Hill needed was a solid performance from the pitcher’s mound, and they got that and more with Freeman. Freeman pitched six innings, recorded eight strikeouts, and allowed only two earned runs.

Jacob McCaleb entered in the top of the seventh inning for Freeman and finished off the Bulldogs with two strikeouts of his own.

The Panthers handled the Leander Glenn Grizzlies with similar ease on March 31. Liberty Hill walked out of Leander Glenn High School with an 11-0 victory.

The Grizzlies managed only two hits the entire ballgame—both in the first inning against Nathan Flake. Flake retired the rest of Leander Glenn’s batters until he was relieved by McCaleb in the seventh inning. McCaleb retired the side in his only inning of work.

Natividad was perfect at the plate in Leander. The second baseman batted three for three, including one RBI in the top of the fifth inning.

With the two wins, the Panthers now hold a seven-game win streak. Liberty Hill hasn’t lost since its 6-3 loss to Harker Heights in the Travis County Baseball Tournament.

There are six games remaining for the Panthers, and with the hot streak they are on, only one thought runs through their minds.

“Most of us that are playing on this team didn’t really play last year, so it feels good to come together and beat everybody in our district,” Turner Gryseels said. “Now we’ve got to beat them all again.”