ELDERSBURG — It didn’t take long for Liberty and Winters Mill, a pair of county rivals, to get a feel for how Thursday’s playoff matchup was going to play out.
The Lions and Falcons combined to score 32 times in their two regular-season contests, but this Class 2A West Region Section 1 quarterfinal had a different vibe. So the foes tried their hand at small ball, and the home team did just enough to survive.
Liberty made the most of its scoring chances to clip Winters Mill 3-0 and advance, and avenged a home loss against the Falcons from early last week.
“Looking at the pitch count by the third inning — low number of pitches for both pitchers — you could tell the game was going by quickly,” said junior Garrett Geidel. “You have to do everything you can.”
Geidel gave credit to Thursday’s starters, Liberty’s Jack Merchak and WM’s Slater Seitz, for their efficiency and control. Which is why he and the Lions wanted to push one run across as soon as they could to establish a flow.
That run came in the second inning when Geidel’s single to right scored Michael Parris, who singled to lead off and got into scoring position after a sacrifice bunt from Merchak. Liberty (10-9) grabbed a 2-0 lead in the fourth when Merchak reached on an infield hit and Parris, who led off with a double, scored on a fielder’s choice.
Geidel’s two-out RBI single in the sixth gave the Lions some insurance, but Merchak needed little. He scattered four hits and struck out two in a complete game, and worked out of a few jams along the way.
Winters Mill (4-15) stranded eight runners, and had the lead-off runner on base four times despite coming up empty. The Falcons put down successful sac bunts of their own, and moved runners into scoring position, to no avail.
This playoff game was much different than when WM met Liberty the previous two times this spring — the Lions won 13-4 on April 25 in Westminster, and the Falcons prevailed 10-5 on the road four days later. WM coach Erik Barnes said he wasn’t pleased with his team’s regular-season finish — the Falcons made five errors and allowed eight unearned runs in a loss to Francis Scott Key on Tuesday — but its playoff performance was a welcome sight.
“I hadn’t really seen those steps in a positive direction,” Barnes said. “And then you come down here and … I thought it was a great high school playoff baseball game. We played pretty clean. Today I saw a lot of good things.”
Winters Mill loses a handful of seniors, led by Alex Barnes and Grant Bradt, but should return much of this year’s squad. Seitz, a sophomore, struck out five over his six innings Thursday. Seitz was one of four sophomores in WM’s playoff lineup.
For Liberty, Parris and Geidel had two hits apiece and Parris scored twice. The Lions dropped three of their final five games before the playoffs began, but they’re hoping those days are behind them.
“The last game [against WM] kind of pushed us to work harder for this game,” Parris said.
Added Liberty coach Brian Tombs: “You’re getting the other team’s best shot. This is, for lack of a better phrase, ‘Do or die.’ And neither team wants to go home.”