The Liberty County High School baseball team was supposed to host its region opener against Washington County, but Mother Nature tossed in some rain and forced the boys to travel to Thomson on Saturday for their first region match.
Despite leading for most of the game, the Panthers lost 4-3 after Thomson pulled ahead in the seventh inning.
Panther Eddie Chipple set the bar high in the first inning, hitting a solo homerun for a 1-0 lead going into the second inning. The boys failed to score in the second, but Cody French, playing in his first game of the season after injuring his hand, smacked a base hit.
Panther Joe Watkins, who pitched the game, gave up a solo homerun against the Bulldogs’ shortstop in the second inning, tying the game at 1.
The Panthers scored two runs in the third when Javaughn Shuman walked and Cameron Harris reached first on an error by the Bulldog pitcher. Matt Desbiens followed with a walk to load the bases. Eddie Chipple stepped up once again and hit a single into center field to bring in Shuman. Harris eventually came around to score and put the Panthers up 3-1.LCHS left the bases loaded in the third and according to Panther David Samuel, that would come back to haunt the Liberty team.
Two leadoff singles by the Bulldogs in the third and a sacrifice fly allowed one runner to score. After three innings, the score was LCHS 3, Thomson 2.
LCHS started the sixth inning with Dylan Connelly getting hit by the pitch. He was later erased on a fielder’s choice. Trey Sikes walked and Shuman singled to put two runners on with two outs, but the Panthers could not get any runners to cross the plate. Watkins held the Bulldogs down with a strikeout, pop-out to French and a ground ball to Chipple at short.
In the bottom of the seventh, Watkins walked the leadoff batter and got the No. 9 batter to bunt a pop-up to Connelly at third for the first out. Watkins fanned the leadoff batter to get the second out. With two outs and a runner at first, the pitcher walked the next batter. A wild pitch allowed the runners to advance to second and third.
The next Bulldog batter hit a changeup down the third base line, which brought in one runner to tie the score at 3. Chipple then came in to relieve Watkins. The first batter was hit by the pitch to load the bases and the next batter drew a walk to bring in the winning run.
"We had total control of the game from the first batter of the game," Samuel said. "At no time did I feel we were not going to win the game. The kids were up the entire game and we knew it was ours. Unfortunately, we lost focus with two outs in the bottom of the seventh and lost the game. Watkins pitched a beautiful game. He pitched six 2/3 innings, scattered six hits, struck out 12, walked two and hit one batter. It was unfortunate that Joe got the loss because he was the player of the game."