Panthers to face La Vernia with State Tournament berth on the line


By Lance Catchings

The Liberty Hill baseball team is on the hottest of hot streaks and making history with every win.

The 32-3-1 Panthers have now advanced further than any Liberty Hill baseball team in history, but have a daunting task ahead of them. The team has had lofty expectations since last summer, and they are accomplishing each and every goal they’ve set for themselves.

“I don’t want to say it doesn’t surprise me where we are, but I did think it was something that was possible,” said Head Coach Steven Hutcherson. “There are a lot of teams that think in the beginning of the season they can go a long way, but something ends up happening and they don’t get to where they thought they could get. To have those expectations going in and to still be standing is impressive. Our players believe it, but they also understand that no matter who you run up against, the other team believes it, as well. Right now, it is about going out and outplaying your opponent. It has been fun to get to this point, but now it is about staying focused and doing what you can to keep it rolling.”

The Panthers will need their focus as they get ready for a regional final clash with La Vernia (26-10). La Vernia was the champion of District 30-4A and has been battled tested throughout the playoffs. The Bears have taken down Crystal City, Beeville Jones, Hidalgo and Fulshear to advance to the regional final.

“La Vernia might have one of the strongest lineups, meaning nine good hitters, that we have seen all year,” Hutcherson said. “La Vernia’s offense is nine good hitters, and you have to make sure that you minimize base runners and do not beat yourself. Their pitching is good enough to keep them in games if their offense is rolling. This week will be a little bit of a contrast in style. I believe we have a good offense, but we have won a lot of games with pitching and defense. This week, we’ll have good pitching and defense going against an offensive team that can be dangerous.”

If there is any doubt about La Vernia’s opportunistic offense, look no further than their regional semifinal match against Fulshear. La Vernia won game one 11-5, dropped game two 5-2 and exploded in game three for a 13-2 win to advance to face the Panthers.

“A lot of people probably would’ve taken Fulshear to win the series, looking at them on paper,” Hutcherson said. “When I saw both teams play in person, I felt like La Vernia was the better team. The fact that La Vernia won didn’t surprise me. Now we must make sure that our guys understand that. Don’t assume that you know everything about your opponent. There were probably some teams along the way that thought Liberty Hill is good at football, basketball, but we don’t really know much about them in baseball, so we’ll be okay. That is probably the same case with La Vernia. They may not have been a team that people thought would win the region, but they are every bit as capable. There is a very legit reason they are in this round, and it is because they are one of the best teams in the state of Texas in baseball.”

La Vernia plays an aggressive offensive style of baseball that Hutcherson said his defense will have to stay dialed in for. Although the Panthers have swept every series in their playoff run, Hutcherson still believes there are things to improve.

“La Vernia is one of the better bunting teams we have had all year,” he said. “They do not miss many opportunities. If they get a guy in scoring position, they do a good job about getting them in. If they get a guy on early in an inning, it will take us a good effort to keep them from scoring. In the Fulshear series, they were coming around to score. We have put ourselves in some tough situations and made for some tough innings to get out of. In certain situations, we have tried to do too much. We must be able to slow the game down and understand that if we just get one out every chance there is to get one, that we must make the play. We need to understand how to get outs when they’re there to be had.”

Liberty Hill will play game one of the series Thursday at 7 p.m. followed by game two Saturday at 1 p.m. Game three will be played 30 minutes after game two if necessary. All games will be played at Dripping Springs High School.