Liberty HS needs just 5 innings to secure 3rd baseball title

To bring home its 6A state baseball championship, Liberty High School did exactly what it had been doing during its 19-game winning streak.

The Lions scored 10 runs against Alhambra High, their per-game average during the winning streak that stretched back to the sixth game on the 2021 schedule.  They combined that power at the plate with good pitching and a solid defensive effort to post the 10-0 title win.

Ironically, the shutout in Tuesday’s mercy-ruled, five-inning game was exactly what it took Xavier Prep to claim its state softball championship in a 10-0 title win a day earlier.

So much for drama on the diamond that didn’t happen in this year’s title games.

There really wasn’t any expectation of a drama-filled championship game in baseball.  Liberty (21-3) was the most balanced team in the hunt for this year’s 6A title, combining depth at just about every position and the talent to go all the way.

And they had the experience needed for a deep run.  The Lions’ roster included 14 seniors.

But even with that information at hand, it would have been difficult to predict the team’s performance at the plate against the Alhambra pitchers.  The Lions’ assault was a machine gun-like attack that include 14 hits, all singles.  Everywhere there was a hole in the Alhambra infield and outfield, the Lions’ hitters found them, scoring four runs off 11 hits against Alhambra’s starting pitcher, Marco Pacheco, and the rest against his replacement, Erubiel Ortiz, who left his infielder’s role to take the mound and try to turn the tide.

Pacheco found himself in a situation he hadn’t faced all season.  The sophomore right-hander was 10-0 on the season, with a gaudy .52 ERA.

Going into the game, it appeared No. 4 seed Alhambra (22-2) might have a good chance of taking down No. 2 Liberty since they had upset No. 1 Hamilton HS with a 3-2 victory in the semifinals.  Had Alhambra’s senior pitcher, Daniel Avitia, been available for the title game, it may have made a difference, but Avitia had thrown his 100-pitch limit to get his team past Hamilton.

However, the way Liberty was playing, it may not have been enough to keep the Lions’ hitters in check.

Liberty used two pitchers to wrap up the win.  Kaden Schiefelbein started the game but an arm issue that arose in the fourth inning forced him to turn the ball over to Traig Oughton, a sophomore who hadn’t appeared in any postseason game.

Liberty is no newcomer to the big stage.  The Peoria school has been to the championship game five times in the last nine years, winning three state crowns overall and two during the last three years that a state tournament was held, since the COVID threat forced an early cancellation of the 2020 season.

Next year will be a whole new ball game, however, since the program just graduated more than half of its championship roster.