Panthers secure district championship
By Joseph Garcia
The stage was set for a memorable night at the Liberty Hill High School softball field Tuesday.
It was Senior Night; the Lady Panthers had just bounced back from a loss at Taylor with a 13-0 win over Llano, and Lampasas was in town for a winner-take-all showdown for the District 25-3A Championship.
Both teams came in with a 7-1 district record and the Lady Badgers were looking to spoil Liberty Hill’s Senior Night with a road win. But the Liberty Hill seniors would have none of it, winning the game 11-3 and claiming the district title for a third-straight year.
“(Before the game) I told them they had to win Friday night, too, to (secure the district title),” said Liberty Hill softball coach Charice Hankins. “But I threw them one tonight; I thought I might as well give them a little celebration. There is something to be excited about because this is a big win and they played hard. Now they can celebrate and know the pressure’s off.”
The opening ceremonies included parents, flowers and photos. But once it was over, the Lady Panthers were ready to play ball with senior leader Kourtney Bevers on the mound.
Liberty Hill quickly jumped out to a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the first inning with leadoff hitter Paige Lafferty first-pitch swinging for a hard single to left field. A sacrifice bunt by Kendyl Yandrisovitz moved Lafferty over to second.
Two batters later, with Lafferty on third, Paige Holland drove in one of her three RBIs of the evening for a 1-0 lead.
Bevers struck out the side in the top of the second, including working from a 3-0 count to the first batter of the inning. And the Lady Panthers supported her by adding another run in the second inning on a sacrifice fly by Lafferty.
The Lady Panthers began to pull away in the fourth inning, scoring six runs on three hits that included back-to-back 2RBI doubles by Holland and Bevers, increasing the lead to 8-0.
Lampasas responded, however, in the top of the fifth inning, beginning with a leadoff homerun over the left field fence by senior Kelsi Gilseth to put the Lady Badgers on the board 8-1. Lampasas added two more runs on four more hits to close the Liberty Hill lead 8-3.
Liberty Hill bounced back with a two-run inning of its own in the bottom of the fifth and Bevers took care of business in the sixth, striking out two more.
“Momentum is a huge thing in softball,” Hankins said. “I told them they have to score and get those (runs) back. We made an error that inning, but you know what, they hit the ball well and took care of business when they scored.”
Having previously given up just one homerun this season – to Lampasas’ Hadley Brown – Bevers exacted revenge for the one she gave up earlier in the game.
With her batting song “Hakuna Matata” playing while the pitcher was warming up for the inning, Bevers had all sorts of time to think “no worries” to herself. Next thing anyone knew, she swung and nailed the offering pitch to right field that just cleared the fence.
“It’s almost like getting one back,” said Bevers. “I know the pitcher didn’t hit it over on me, but it makes it a little bit better. I was thinking right when I hit it, oh no, another pop out…then I just see (Kristan) Brewer standing up with her hands up and I was like, heck yes!”
The round-tripper was her first homerun of the season.
“It probably felt so good because it’s the last time to play on this field and I don’t think I’ve ever hit one over here,” she said.
Bevers (10-1) finished the game with seven strikeouts, while giving up just three runs on four hits. And Sam Junkin relieved her in the seventh inning, making quick work of the Lady Badgers, striking out the game’s final batter.
“Bevers is just a great senior leader,” Hankins said. “She works hard; she fights hard and swings the bat as hard as she can. She hits the ball hard every time and it’s about time she’s got one of those because she’s been close many times. She hit it to the deepest part of our field, too.”
With the district crown now in her back pocket, Coach Hankins and her team let out a small sigh of relief. She especially felt it for the seniors on the team.
“These seniors have fought,” she said. “They won a district championship their sophomore and junior years and this year the pressure was on a little bit. They had to get the monkey off their back. We are hitting the ball finally, again. It means a lot to me and the seniors on this team to win it like this.”