GATESVILLE — Almost immediately, Riley Latham felt uncomfortable.
After each of Gatesville’s first three batters failed to get on base — something Hornets head coach Crystal O’Brien cannot recall happening this season — against No. 2 Liberty Hill, uneasiness washed over the senior third baseman.
Gatesville’s slow start dragged on for the duration of the game as the Hornets finished with four hits before losing to the Lady Panthers 8-1.
“We never go three up, three down in the first inning,” Latham said. “It is always three runs or four runs in the first inning. I’m not going to lie, I was pretty nervous (after that happened). I knew it was going to be a hard game.”
The Lady Panthers produced at least two hits in each of the final five innings, finishing with 13 in the game as they clinched the District 8-3A championship with the victory, ending the Hornets’ hopes of earning the first title in program history.
“We are usually hot right off the bat,” O’Brien said. “It kind of set the tone a little bit.”
With the loss, Gatesville (19-14, 8-2) locks up the district’s second seed and will open the playoffs against Stephenville at Brownwood, but the date is yet to be determined. For senior right fielder Ashley Cook, this trip to the playoffs means everything.
“From here on out, if you lose, you’re done,” said Cook, who was who was 2 for 3 with her team’s lone RBI, “and I’m not sure we are all ready to go yet. As a senior, this is my last thing. I’m not doing anything else (athletically this year), so I really want to go all the way.”
Gatesville survived a couple of tough situations early, holding the Lady Panthers (27-2, 10-0) scoreless over the first two innings by stranding three and two runners in the first and second innings, respectively.
The trend did not continue, however. Liberty Hill scored its first run in the top of the third inning before Cook hit an infield single to send Latham, who reached base on a walk, across home plate, to tie the game 1-1.
Third baseman Kallen Floyd, who went 3 for 4 with four RBIs, gave Liberty Hill a 4-1 cushion in the following inning, though, by blasting a three-run home run over the left-field fence. The inning triggered a series of four consecutive two-hit innings for the Lady Panthers before they capped off the game with a four-hit seventh inning.
“They outhit us,” O’Brien said. “We know they are going to hit the ball, and we didn’t. ... I think we a little too aggressive at the plate sometimes.”
Liberty Hill scored two runs in both the sixth and seventh innings to create the final margin, but the outcome could have been even more lopsided as the Lady Panthers left a total of 13 runners stranded, including seven in scoring position.
“They were hitting pretty good shots, but our defense stuck together like it normally does,” Latham said.