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Liberty opens baseball season
jc lc baseball0302
Liberty County baseball coach Steve Cotrell (center) and his two seniors, Robert Walsh (left) and Erik Mattingly (right) are pumped up for the 2007 baseball season. The Panthers lost the season opener 5-2 to Wayne County but the team remains optimistic. - photo by Photo by Jimmy Courier
Though spring is officially 19 days away, the first rite of spring — opening day — commenced Tuesday when Liberty County High School opened its home baseball season.
The Panthers took highly touted Wayne County to the limit but dropped a 5-2 decision in the eighth inning.
LCHS coach Steve Cotrell and his young but talented Panthers were eager to open the season.
“I’m always excited when I’m out here on the diamond,” Cotrell said. “The guys are hungry and the boys’ enthusiasm has been real good.”
The team practiced hard the two weeks before Tuesday’s contest, including twice a day the first week.
Cotrell said he was impressed that all of his players showed up to practice in the afternoon as well as lifting weights and running in the morning before school.
Though the season opener did not go the Panthers’ way, Cotrell was pleased with his team’s effort.
“The guys are hungry but the difference tonight was that Wayne stepped up and made big plays in the game,” he said.
Wayne County’s Brendon Herrin put Wayne ahead 3-2 in the eighth inning with a single to left-center field scoring Ryan Robertson from second base.
Later, Timmy Simmons knocked in two more runs for the Jackets with a double to centerfield.
Despite being limited to two hits, the Panthers had several opportunities to score as Wayne County made three errors and issued four walks.
Liberty County stranded seven runners, including three in scoring position.
“We had a chance but we didn’t come through,” he said. “The good thing is if we keep putting the guys in that position to win and if you want to be a good team, then you have to beat good teams like Wayne.”
Wayne County also left seven runners on base, but four in scoring position.
The Jackets jumped on the board first in the fourth inning off Joey Farmer’s two-out, two-run double to right field.
The Panthers tied the game in the bottom half of the inning, taking advantage of a passed ball and a wild pitch.
Sophomore Aaron Hoffer and his older brother junior Skylar Hoffer, who were named to the Georgia Dugout Club’s Players to Watch List, scored the runs.
Skylar pitched five innings, allowing two earned runs and four hits. He left with the game tied at 2 and did not earn a decision.
He struck out 10 Yellow Jacket batters while issuing only one walk.
Sophomore Justin Eaton was charged with the loss. Eaton shut out the Jackets in the sixth and seventh innings but allowed three earned runs in the eighth inning.
Senior Erik Mattingly finished the pitching for the Panthers recording the final two outs of the top half of the eighth inning.
“Our pitchers stepped up in big time situations against good hitters,” Cotrell said. “Wayne has players who can swing the stick, we had pitchers come up big and our guys in the field came up with some big plays.” Wayne County’s Justin Pruitt earned the win, pitching three shutout and hitless innings. He also struck out six batters while walking three.
Josh Palmer started the game for the Jackets, going five innings, allowing two earned runs and two hits. He struck out nine batters and walked one.
Opening Day was not without humor as the sprinklers came on in the bottom of the sixth inning.
Cotrell, having a good sense of humor, laughed off the incident but admitted it was embarrassing.
“I thought, ‘Oh Lord, what else can go wrong,’” he said. “They usually don’t come on until 9 and I don’t know why they came on at 7:15.”
The Panthers hit the road for their next seven games, including a March 10 game at Cottrell’s alma mater, Commerce.
Fans can catch the Panthers at home on March 17 when they host Long County at 4 p.m.
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