The Panther baseball team had beaten Richmond Hill before. But the stakes were higher in Friday’s region match, previously described by LCHS coach David Samuel as a "must-win game." Fortunately, the Liberty squad earned a 2-1 victory over the Wildcats and retained fourth place in the 3-AAA standings.
The Panthers trailed 0-1 until the fourth inning, but the athletes eventually came together and beat the Wildcats before a cheering home crowd.
Richmond Hill struck first, scoring a run in the first inning. The ’Cats tried to add a second run to close the inning as a runner attempted to steal home off a wild pitcher by Panther Joe Watkins. Catcher Matt Desbiens was quick on the draw, however, and tossed the ball to Watkins who covered the plate and avoided the run.Watkins pitched a solid game eventually retiring the last two batters with a strike and a toss out at first to end the game with the win.
In the bottom of the fourth, Desbiens was hit with a pitch. Samuel Wilson came in as his courtesy runner and Eddie Chipple laid down a successful bunt. Watkins looked for another bunt but was walked to load the bases.
Cody French and Antonio Smith struck out, but Javaughn Shuman walked to score the Panthers’ first run. Trey Sikes walked for the second run.
It was up to the Panthers’ pitching and defense from that point on.
In the sixth inning, the Wildcats threatened to tie the score with runners on first and second bases and no outs. The next Wildcat batter hit one deep to centerfield. In a clutch defensive play, Brandon Whitmore caught the ball for the out and made an immediate toss to Desbiens at home. Without hitting the cutoff, Whitmore made the toss, and a quick adjustment by Desbiens tagged the runner at home for the out, avoiding a tie.
That deflated the Wildcats and carried the Liberty boys into the top of the seventh, where Watkins dominated the mound for a victory.
"He knew it was a big game and he fought," Samuel said. "They got that one run in the first, but he kept battling after that. And Brandon has, by far, the best arm in the outfield. He was playing centerfield today in place of another player and, as far as that play, it had to be a perfect throw and it was."
The Liberty boys have a four-game stretch at home with Savannah Christian on Monday, Camden on Tuesday, Windsor Forest on Thursday and their last region game Friday against Washington County.
The Wildcats are ranked third, but they still need to finish three region games. Losses could push the Liberty boys up in the rankings for the playoffs.
Friday’s home game against WACO is also senior night.