Youth softball teams represent well at World Series

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By Scott Akanewich

If the performance of the squads who represented Liberty Hill at the recent Pony Softball World Series is any indication of where local youth softball is headed, then the future is definitely bright.

Two different Panthers teams played in the event in Youngsville, Louisiana – in the 8-and-under and 10-and-under divisions, with both winning games along the way.

The 10-and-under squad finished fifth in a field of 14 teams from across the organization’s South zone, which encompasses Texas, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia and Florida.

According to 10-and-under co-head coach Mike Etheridge, his players did a fine job of acquitting themselves well on and off the field over the course of the four-day tournament.

“Honestly, I was excited with how the girls represented us – it was amazing,” said Etheridge, who also serves as vice president of Liberty Hill Youth League Softball. “They were completely hungry.”

The 10-and-under team – who play in the Mustang division – began the tourney with a 5-4 victory over Eunice, Louisiana, in the opening game of pool play to determine the seedings for the knockout rounds, with each team playing three games in the process.

After the opening victory, the Panthers were matched up with Rayne, Louisiana, and came away with a 7-0 defeat before rebounding with a 7-7 tie against Mercedes, Texas, to finish pool play with a 1-1-1 record.

Liberty Hill was then paired up against Ville Platte, Louisiana, and defeated them by a score of 7-6 before once again facing No. 1-seed Rayne and suffering a second loss to them, 18-0.

Due to the double-elimination format of the tournament, the Panthers were relegated to the consolation bracket, where they would rebound with a pair of victories against Eunice (11-7) and Kaplan, Louisiana (5-2).

Unfortunately, the Panthers’ good fortune finally ran out in the next round as they lost to nearby neighbors Round Rock, 12-2, finishing fifth overall with a 4-3-1 mark for the tournament.

Central Austin Youth League defeated Normoyle of San Antonio, 6-5, in the championship game.

Liberty Hill center fielder Anna Nicholson, who hit .630 for the weekend, said the competition was the toughest she and her teammates had faced all season.

“Some of the teams we played were really hard,” she said. “So, it was a challenge.”

Aside from the action on the diamond, Nicholson enjoyed participating in the tradition of pin-trading, which goes on between teams at national tournaments.

“It was interesting because you get to see all the pins from the other states,” said Nicholson. “My favorite was the one from Kaplan because it had a voodoo doll in the background.”

Etheridge added it was sometimes a challenge to keep his players focused on the field with all the festivities going on around the games.

We had to keep them focused on what we were there for,” he said.

While the 10-and-under squad was busy working its way through the bracket, the 8-and-under team had serious business of its own to tend to in the Pinto division.

The Panthers compiled a 1-2 record in pool play, with a 6-4 win over Medina Valley, Texas, and losses against Southwest White (9-4) and Edgewood, Texas (12-2).

In the opener of bracket play, the Panthers had a rematch with Southwest White and defeated them this time around by a score of 7-6, which propelled them into another contest against Edgewood, which they lost, 12-1.

After dropping into the consolation bracket, Liberty Hill lost to Southwest Green, 4-2 and finished the tournament with a 2-4 record, as Bertram went on to win the title with a 9-3 victory over Edgewood in the championship game.

Sidney Quick, a first and second baseman for the 8-and-under Panthers, said it was a thrill just to win a game at the tournament.

“When we won that game in the bracket, we were all very excited,” said Quick, who finished the weekend with a .685 batting average. “We just needed to get our bats fired up.”

Rain plagued the tournament from beginning to end, including a five-hour delay at one point, which saw the 10-and-under team start a game at 11:45 p.m. and not finish until 1:20 a.m. before having to report back later that morning for its next contest at 9:50 a.m.

However, both Panthers squads weren’t going to let a little inclement weather get in the way of them having a good time, said Quick.

“My favorite part was when we would do our cha-cha dance before every game,” she said. “It’s something we started.”

Quick said the most important thing for her when she steps onto the field is to always maintain a positive attitude – even when things don’t go her way.

“Like if you strike out, you can’t be sad,” she said. “Because then you won’t get a hit the next time – you just need to have fun.”

Nicholson said she enjoyed the opportunity to hit against top-quality pitchers with more velocity.

“When you hit the ball, it goes farther,” she said. “But, I’d rather have a pitcher who is right in the middle – not too slow or too fast.”

Etheridge attributed the recent success of the Liberty Hill program to mastery of the basic aspects of the game.

“We’re always working with the girls on the fundamentals,” he said. “We want to teach them how to play the game properly.”

In addition to the 10-and-under and 8-and-under teams’ appearance at the World Series, Liberty Hill’s 12-and-under and 14-and-under squads advanced to the regional tournament, finishing off a fine year for the program.
Etheridge said they’re just getting started, though.

“The future is definitely bright for us,” he said. “All of our teams are young.”

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