Panthers no-hit by Rouse, still win

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By Scott Akanewich
Sports Editor

Who needs hits, anyway?
Not when an offense can take advantage of miscues and mistakes by the opposition and not when your mound man is dealing.

Which is exactly how Liberty Hill’s 5-2 home district win over No. 6 Rouse played out, as the Purple-and-Gold won its second league contest in as many days without the benefit of a hit.

The Panthers parlayed four bases-on-balls and a hit-by-pitch into three first-inning runs for a quick 3-0 lead against the Raiders and that was all freshman Blaze Milam needed in pitching a complete game for the victory, allowing only one earned run on five hits with eight strikeouts over the course of a mostly-masterful 95-pitch performance.

However, after he cruised through the opening three frames – including striking out four of the Raiders’ first seven batters – the right-hander ran into trouble in the fourth.

Milam sandwiched a pair of Rouse singles around a balk and a wild pitch before a sacrifice fly and another single brought home a pair of Raiders runs to cut the score to 3-2.

But, the youngster’s problems didn’t end there, as he threw away a pick-off attempt past first baseman Kash Durkin and was charged with an error on the play before recovering his composure in striking out the next two Rouse batters to end the inning with his side still in the lead by the slimmest of margins at 3-2.

Milam said he was able to work through the rough patch by remaining aggressive.

“I just tried to attack the zone,” he said. “I’m not afraid to throw strikes and I don’t focus on the bad.”

Indeed, Milam picked up in the fifth where he had left off in the third by retiring the side in order, then cashed in on a double play in the sixth to shut down a potential Rouse comeback after allowing a leadoff double and hitting a batter.

In the meantime, the Panthers had plated a pair of insurance runs in the bottom of the fourth, when Brody Blay led off with a walk, then advanced to second with one out when Logan Dyer was hit by a pitch before a quite curious play unfolded.

Carson Riley squared around to sacrifice the runners over a station, only to pop his effort up in front of the mound, where it was dutifully scooped up by the pitcher, who easily would’ve thrown Blay out at third if there had been someone covering – which there wasn’t after the third baseman had charged and left the bag vacant.

Just as they had done in the first, the Panthers made Rouse pay for its transgressions when Blay scored on yet another blunder – a wild pitch – before Ryan Leary providing the home side with its hardest hit ball of the evening in lining out sharply to center, bringing home Dyer in the process.

Once Milam had retired the side in the sixth on his 88th pitch of the contest, it looked as if his night might’ve been done, but Liberty Hill head coach Steve Hutcherson decided to send his young hurler out in the seventh to seal the deal – a choice which was made easier by the Rouse hitters due up in the order, he said.

“Their 2-3-4 hitters had good swings against him the whole game,” said Hutcherson. “So, after he got past those, it pretty much made the decision to send him back out for the seventh for us.”

Milam rewarded Hutcherson’s faith by retiring the side on seven pitches, including the final out, which was a comebacker to the mound he fielded and jogged halfway over to first before flipping the ball to Cade McCoy to close out the victory.

Milam said he let his coach know he felt like he could finish the game in between innings.

“I told him I wanted it,” he said.

The rookie righty got what he wanted in collecting his second straight complete-game win of the young season following an 89-pitch effort in a 7-2 win over Cedar Ridge in his last outing.

Milam is now 3-0 on the season, with a 0.91 earned-run-average and 20 strikeouts in 23 innings.

Not bad for the new kid on the block who certainly doesn’t pitch like one, said Hutcherson.

“Blaze is pretty composed,” he said. “It’s one of his best abilities and he does a good job of throwing strikes.”

Liberty Hill (14-5-1, 2-0) will next play at Cedar Park on March 23 before hosting Marble Falls on March 26.

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