Just two weeks ago, Mountain Ridge High School’s baseball team missed an opportunity to bring home the school’s first state championship in that sport when Sandra Day O’Connor High School handed the Mountain Lions an embarrassing 7-1 loss.
The loss was especially hard to watch for Matt Liberatore, the Lions’ senior pitching ace who had to watch his final high school game unfold from the dugout. Liberatore had pitched the previous game, a semifinal victory over Mesa’s Mountain View High that got his team into the title game. However, those innings exhausted his availability for the big game because he had reached his 100-pitch limit in the semi and the required four days of rest had not passed between games.
While that state title would have been the perfect ending to a stellar prep career, maybe the latest honor bestowed on the 6’5″ left-hander will take a little of the sting out of the disappointment.
Liberatore has been selected as the 2018 Gatorade Arizona Baseball Player of the Year. He becomes the first athlete from the Glendale school to win the Gatorade award for baseball and now becomes a finalist for the national award.
The Gatorade award, established in 1985, recognizes not only outstanding athletic excellence, but also high standards of academic achievement and exemplary character, both on and off the field.
He has maintained a weighted 4.14 GPA at Mountain Ridge and has performed volunteer work at a homeless shelter and as a youth baseball coach.
On the mound, he has been so impressive this year that he has been ranked by at least one recruiting service as high as the No. 2 recruit in the Class of 2018. He has a fastball that reportedly has been clocked at 95 mph, which was a big help in piling up 104 strikeouts in just over 60 innings pitched this season in leading the Lions to a 21-win season.
Last summer he played for Team USA, which won a gold medal at the U-18 World Cup in Canada
Liberatore finished with an 8-1 record for his senior season and posted a 0.93 ERA.
“(He) is the hardest-working player I have ever coached,” said his coach at Mountain Ridge, Artie Cox. “His stats over these four years have been off the charts.” The youngster also helped the Lions reach the state title game back in 2016, the only other time the school had advanced that far in the postseason.
The Gatorade state award has been spread around among various schools over the past decade, but Hamilton High won it twice, when Nick Brueser was selected in 2016 and Mitch Nay in 2012. Desert Ridge High School was a back-to-back recipient — Jake Barrett in 2009 and Taylor Kaczmarek the next year.
Liberatore has committed to play for the University of Arizona Wildcats, should he not opt to play professionally rather than pursue a college career. Since he’s been projected as high as a No. 3 pick in next week’s MLB draft, it’s not likely the Cats will get a chance to suit him up.