Liberty Wins Regional DII Baseball Title With 10-inning Win

The fantastic finale of high emotions started with the top-seeded Patriots trailing visiting Moorpark by four runs with one out in the seventh, picked up energy with an improbable three-run home run to tie the game and reaching a frenetic pitch with a heart-stopping base hit to win it in the 10th inning, capping a magical season with a 6-5 victory over the No. 3 Musketeers in front of a packed house at Liberty Field.

“This is just a tribute to my team,” 18-year Liberty coach Tony Mills said. “They’re incredible. They’ve had heart all year long. They never quit. These guys learned about themselves as a team, but this is going to carry them in life, you know? Not to give up. And boy, there’s no quit in this group at all.”

The final act put an unlikely source in the spotlight when it mattered most.

With two outs and Chance Gerecke at second base, sophomore Brody Berry scorched a line drive down the left field line for the game-winner. Gerecke sprinted around third and slid into an unobstructed home plate as the Patriots’ bench rushed the field in celebration.

It was just the eighth plate appearance at the varsity level for Berry since being recalled from the JV team three weeks ago.

“It’s amazing because I got sent down, then got brought back up and to have that opportunity … and I didn’t look back,” Berry said. “I just had to get my confidence back. It’s all confidence. If you know you’re going to hit, you know you’re going to do good.”

Berry’s heroics were set up by a series of clutch plays by his teammates.

The Liberty faithful erupted in the seventh when senior Brock Thompson gave his team new life.

With the Patriots down to its last two outs, Chance Gerecke walked and moved to second when Nick Martin was hit by a pitch by Moorpark reliever Jackson Pryor. Gerecke then stole third and came home when the throw sailed into left field to trim the Musketeers’ lead to 4-1.

Berry then walked and Thompson unloaded on an off-speed pitch from sophomore Tanner Stotts, hitting the ball over the sunscreen in center field to tie the game. Thompson was 2 for 4 with a double and a walk.

“I saw the opportunity come into place, and I couldn’t have done it without my teammates getting on to put me in that position,” Thompson said. “And I heard my dad, our hitting coach, say ‘just be yourself,’ and (the pitcher) hung it in there on a curve ball and missed his spot, and the next thing I knew I was rounding the bases and my teammates arms. I felt amazing.”

Liberty’s seventh-inning rally didn’t end there. After Grant Voss grounded out for the second out, Brady Baird was issued a walk by Blake Guy and Davis Goodwin followed with a base on balls from the Musketeers’ fourth pitcher of the inning, Diego Magana.

Caden Churchman followed with a singled to left field, but Baird was thrown out at the plate trying to score the winning run by Nolan Johnson to end the threat.

The Patriots had a similar situation in the eighth. After Moorpark (21-12-1) took a 5-4 lead in the top half of the inning, Liberty put together another two-out rally.

With Tryce Spainhoward on first after a lead-off single, Berry and Thompson walked to load the bases and Grant Voss singled in the tying run with a line drive to center field. But Berry was thrown out trying to score the winning run by Jacob Shannon-Wilkerson to end the inning.

“We just fought and scratched and did whatever it took to win,” Mills said. “We had a bunch of guys step up in a bunch of different ways today. That’s what a team’s about. Someone different, doing it everyday and that’s what we’re all about.”

Liberty struggled to put together much offense in the first five innings against Musketeer starter Carson Cerny, who entered the game with a 1.92 ERA.

Cerny limited the Patriots to two hits with two walks and three strikeouts before beginning to tire in the sixth. After retiring the first two batters, he walked Voss, Baird and clean-up hitter Davis Goodwin to load the bases. But after a meeting on the mound, he retired Churchman to end the rally.

Liberty also had plenty to be proud of on the mound.

Junior Chance Gerecke gave up a pair of home runs, including a two-run shot by AJ Mai in the fourth, but mitigated the damage by retiring the last five batters he faced before handing the ball over to his freshman brother, Cash.

Cash Gerecke retired the first six batters he faced, striking out three, but suffered a leg injury in the eighth and was removed after walking the lead-off batter Shannon-Wilkerson.

Thompson came on and struck out Greg Lareva before Taylor Busch doubled to drive home Shannon-Wilkerson for a 5-4 lead.

Thompson got the final two outs of the inning, but then walked the lead-off batter to open the ninth. He then threw wildly to first base on a pick-off attempt, allowing the runner to go all the way to third base. But after the umpires conferred for several minutes, the runner was called out due to interference by Moorpark’s first base coach, who was ruled to be outside the coach’s box.

After Thompson hit the next batter, Baird came on and retired the next two batters to end the inning.

Obstruction played a huge role in the 10th inning, as well. After two errors allowed two runners to reach base with one out, a potential double-play grounder was broken up at second base, but the umpire ruled the runner interfered with second baseman Nick Martin, giving the Patriots the third out to end the inning.

“You talk about gym rats, but we have a bunch of baseball field rats,” Mills said. “They don’t want to leave. They want to be on the field as long as they can.

“We talked about it before the seventh inning and told them we’ve talked about this for a long time, about being legendary. There’d be no bigger feat ever to come back from four in the bottom of the seventh. And that’s what we did.”