The names on the back of the jerseys haven’t changed, but there’s been a dramatic transformation in the Liberty High baseball team during the past four weeks.
After a 10-11 start to the season, the Patriots have been on a tear, vanquishing nearly everyone in their path.
The recent hot streak couldn’t have come at a better time for Liberty, which kicked off the postseason on Tuesday by claiming a 7-2 Central Section Division I first round playoff victory over visiting Centennial.
“In the last month of the season, our pitching has stepped up,” Liberty coach Tony Mills said. “That’s one of the reasons why we’ve been successful. And then we’ve just had good team flow."
A stellar performance on the mound by P.J. Roberts was backed by six early runs as No. 8 Liberty downed the No. 9 Golden Hawks for the third straight time this season and earned a spot in the quarterfinals against top-seeded Clovis West.
Roberts didn’t allow an earned run in 5 2/3 innings pitched. The senior righty scattered five hits and five walks, while racking up four strikeouts before being pulled in favor of reliever Gabe Cruz.
“I wasn’t feeling 100 percent today, but I went out there and I knew my team was going to back me up with some runs,” Roberts said.
Roberts got plenty of run support early. Liberty scored three runs in each of the first two innings to take a 6-0 lead.
After Centennial plated its only two runs of the game in the third inning, the Patriots answered with one more run in the bottom half of the frame to close out the scoring.
Liberty’s players reached base 20 times (10 hits, seven walks and three hit batters) against a quartet of Golden Hawks pitchers.
The Patriots’ offensive attack was led by Easton Murray (3-for-4, 1 walk), Kaleb Dickey (2 BB, 1 HBP), Nolan Proffitt (2-for-3, and Brady Amble (2-for-4, 1 BB). The four combined to score all seven Liberty runs.
“Overall, we played well as team, worked really hard, and fought to the end,” Durham said.
Murray led off the bottom of the first with a single and then advanced to second when Dickey was hit by an errant pitch by Centennial starter Mason Moccardini. Proffitt smashed a line drive single to centerfield giving Liberty a 1-0 lead.
Three batters later Jakob Cruz hit a bases loaded infield dribbler between the pitcher and first base that scored a pair of runs when no one covered first base for Centennial.
Liberty’s offensive outburst in the second inning was in large part the result of Centennial miscues. The Patriots had just one hit — a single. Their three runs came on a bases loaded hit by pitch, a sacrifice fly and a balk.
Down 6-0, the Golden Hawks scored their only runs of the game on a dropped fly by in left field by Proffitt, which should have been the third out of the inning.
The play marked the end of the scoring but not the drama.
In the bottom of the third, Centennial coach Dan Durham was ejected from the game after the home plate umpire reversed a call. The ball hit off Derek Rodriguez’s bat and possibly something else and before landing in fair territory.
Centennial picked it up and threw it to first for the apparent third out. Rodriguez stayed in the batter’s box claiming it should be a foul ball. The three umps got to together and then after a lengthy discussion agreed with Rodriguez’s assessment. Durham disagreed vehemently.
“Durham got ejected for all the right reasons,” Centennial assistant coach Rick Millan said. “The home plate umpire didn’t see the ball hit the bat twice. … Durham stuck up for our team.”
Liberty will face Clovis West on Thursday.
“The deck is going to be stacked against us, but we’re going to show up and play,” Mills said. “We’re not going up there to just to play. We’re going up there to win.”