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AUSTIN - When Karen Slack's team took the field in 2022, she wanted them to do two things - "play with confidence of a state champion and the fight of an underdog".
That mentality carried the Lady Panthers. A team that returned nine starters off a 33-7 State Championship squad from 2021 and were in line to do something the program has never done before.
As Hollie Thomas looked up into the sky, battling the bright Texas sun, she reached up and caught a foul ball just behind home plate to secure a 5-0 victory over Sweeny on Saturday afternoon at Red & Charlene McCombs Field, Liberty clinched the program's third Class 4A State Championship in four seasons and back-to-back crowns.
"It was a great feeling," Kylie Bishop said. "I feel like we were very underestimated this year because we lost three great seniors. This win was meaningful to us as a team."
Sweeny finished the year 31-10 overall and made their first State title game appearance since 1996.
Liberty improved to 38-6 overall with the victory and is the first Class 4A program to win back-to-back titles since Lufkin Hudson did it in 2012 and 2013. They are the most recent since Class 3A Rains did it in 2019 and 2021.
Bishop, who finished 3 for 4 with two doubles and two RBIs was named the Class 4A State Championship Game MVP.
"I was just like, this is so awesome," Bishop said about winning MVP.
Kamdyn Chandler started for the Lady Panthers in the circle and allowed no runs on four hits with six walks and three strikeouts. Chandler finished the season 29-5 overall.
Top 1st Liberty's Kylie Bishop doubles to left field, Hollie Thomas scores (1-0 Liberty)Liberty's Kamdyn Chandler singles to center, Kylie Bishop scores (2-0 Liberty)Liberty's Marina Bourgeios scores on a wild pitch (3-0 Liberty)
Liberty's Bailee Slack steals second and scores on a throwing error (4-0 Liberty) Liberty's Kylie Bishop doubles to left field, Hollie Thomas scores (5-0 Liberty)
AUSTIN – After sitting in a dugout for two hours watching the rain drizzle onto the tarp covering Red & Charline McCombs Field, Liberty could have let that kill their momentum.
The Lady Panthers had just scored five runs to take a 5-3 and starter Kaci West had set down Calallen in order for the first time all day when Mother Nature struck forcing a pause in the Class 4A State Championship game.
But they didn't let that hinder them.
"I was kind of bummed when they said we were in a rain delay," West, the Class 4A State Championship game MVP said. "I was getting on fire and I was ready to go. But we settled in here, we had fun, the last team bonding since I'm senior. We sang a little and danced a little."
After what was a 2 hour and 20-minute delay, Liberty came out still on fire, tacked on five more runs and danced their way to the program's second state championship, defeating Calallen 10-3 on Saturday at Red & Charline McCombes Field.
"I didn't do much work with this group, the three seniors bought in and taught everybody what they needed to know," Liberty coach Karen Slack said. "From day one it's been about what the teams need and not anybody else. I think bringing teenage girls together that's the biggest hurdle and they did that, they have all season."
LIBERTY!!! The Lady Panthers defeat Calallen 10-3 to win the programs second #UILState Championship | @KaciWestttt @SoftballLP @libertypanther1 pic.twitter.com/hF29x1Eca0— VYPE Houston (@vypehouston) June 5, 2021
Liberty, which finishes 33-7 on the year, won a state championship in 2018 when the three seniors were just freshmen, giving them bookend state rings.
Calallen finishes the season 33-9 after making their second state championship game appearance in program history.
The Ladycats jumped out to an early 3-0 lead, capped by a solo home run from Alaunah Almaraz.
"It definitely didn't start the way I wanted to," West said. "But I knew I had a great team behind me, so I settled in really fast. I knew they would make the plays needed and I knew they would have my back."
Despite the rough start for West, the Liberty starter settled in in the fourth inning setting down six-straight Calallen batters before the sixth.
West finished tossing a complete game giving up three runs on three hits, walking seven and striking out 11. She threw 161 pitches.
"She gets better as the game gets harder," Slack said. "She's always done that, even as a ninth grader she was like that. She's got amazing support, her parents are amazing people. She loves the grit, she loves the competitiveness and she's going to do amazing things at Baylor.
"I wouldn't want any other kid on the mound."
TROPHY TIME: @SoftballLP receives the 2021 UIL Class 4A State Championship trophy. | @libertypanther1 @KPRC2RandyMc @HTownHSS @KaciWestttt @KPRC2Ari @TXPrepSoftball pic.twitter.com/GQJX3n6vN9— VYPE Houston (@vypehouston) June 5, 2021
In the third is when the Lady Panthers' bats came to life as Mikaelah Burkland and Hollie Thomas both drove in two runs apiece, giving them a 4-3 lead. Reese Evans singled in another run to cap the five-run inning.
After the nearly two and a half-hour weather delay, Liberty tacked on another two runs in the fourth off a Kaci West double and her scoring on a wild pitch, making it 7-3, and would tack on three more runs to win 10-3.