Heading into Friday’s contest at home against Manchester Valley, the Liberty baseball team had the opportunity to capture a Carroll County championship, something it hadn’t done since 2012.
Thanks to a six-run first inning and a shared workload by seven pitchers, the Lions downed the Mavericks, 7-2, to earn a share of the title with Century for the first time since 2012.
“It’s awesome, it’s a great feeling,” said Liberty coach Travis Inch, whose team will head to the playoffs with a 7-2 record. “We wanted to win it outright but hey, with everything that’s happened, this team has worked super, super hard. Between my assistant coaches and my team, they have put a lot of hard work into this.
“Seeing where we were when these guys were freshmen compared to where we are now, it’s been a tremendous process and they have worked hard every day and this was one of our goals.”
After the Mavericks went down in order in the top of the first, the Lions wasted no time taking advantage. Griffin Stevenson roped a single to left-center field to get things started then stole second, went to third on a passed ball and scored on a wild throw to make it 1-0.
Ryan Smith and Dominic Diblasi both got on and moved around the bases via the stolen base before Byron Blevins blasted a two-hopper to the left field fence on a 3-2 pitch to score two and make it 3-0. Blevins finished with two hits, a double, two RBIs and a run scored.
Justin Hyde hit one to nearly the same spot just one at-bat later that plated Anthony Zombro, and Blevins and Hyde scored on an error to cap the scoring and make it 6-0 at the end of one inning.
“I preach to them every game that we consistently jump on them early,” Inch said. “Early and often is the way I like to put it. If we run the bases, we do the things right, we can get an early lead and they have done that.”
Liberty used an assortment of pitchers to effectively bridge the gap from start to finish. It started with Hyde, who worked a clean first inning with a strikeout. In the top of the second, Chad Petrick singled to center and Ben Coleman walked for Manchester Valley but Zombro worked around that by striking out the side. In the top of the third, Ryan Smith came in and erased a walk using a deceptive pick off move to extinguish the mild threat and keep the Mavericks off the scoreboard.
Diblasi was the next man up, coming in for the fourth, yielding a walk, while recording a strikeout to get through the inning clean.
“It was pretty much a bullpen game,” Inch said. “I preached to them you never know when you are going to come in. I could bring a guy in for one batter and bring him back out. All the guys did a tremendous job as far as mentality. We struggled there for a little but for the most part we came back and we did our job.”
Liberty looked to add on in the second after Diblasi got hit by a pitch and Carter Nimorwicz walked. With two down in the inning, Blevins fought off multiple pitches before blooping one into right center field. But a mistake on the base paths caused a rundown and Diblasi was tagged out. Those types of mistakes are what Travis Inch is looking to avoid in the playoffs.
“Normally we are very good on the bases,” Inch said. “I think there were some mistakes made by guys that came off the bench, but they should know whether they came off the bench or not. We cannot afford that in the playoffs. It’s one game at a time and if you make one mistake it could cost you.”
The Lions added a run in the bottom of the third when Trevor Coombs walked, stole second and came home on a passed ball to make it 7-0.
Manchester Valley finally got on the board in the fifth, getting a leadoff walk from Jared Giffi while Zachary Stranathan got hit by a pitch. A bunt gone awry turned out OK after a throwing error allowed both runners to advance and Perricone laid down a suicide squeeze to bring in Giffi. Stranathan scored on a passed ball to cut the lead to 7-2.
Giffi took that momentum into the field with him in the bottom of the fifth when he made a diving stab of a line drive in right field for the game’s best defensive play of the game.
“We talk about that all season, just go 100%,” Manchester Valley coach Shawn Hampt said. “If you lay out for a ball and it gets behind you, you have one or two guys backing you up. Just go 100% every single minute, every single rep.
“In terms of the way we are approaching the game I want to keep on that, you don’t see heads down. The body language is good, they are into it, they are up on the fence the whole time. We are going to play the full seven innings, we are going to play as hard as we can and we are going to force it and that’s all any coach can really ask for.”
After Matt Becker pitched the fifth for Liberty, it was Nimorwicz that got through the sixth inning. Davis Trump took care of the seventh.