Wendy Alexander/The Madera Tribune
Liberty’s Eli Gonzales leads off the fourth inning with a single to start a five-run rally during Monday’s 10-4 win over Kerman
In a game featuring the top two teams in the North Sequoia League last year, the Liberty Hawks made a statement with a 10-4 victory over the Kerman Lions.
Last season, the Hawks needed to defeat the Lions once in two games to claim the NSL championship. The Lions swept the Hawks 10-0 and 5-4 to claim the NSL title.
This year, the tides turned with a 10-4 Liberty victory Monday afternoon. On a day with youth baseball players in the stands, the Hawks gave them something to look forward to with three runs in the first and five more in the fifth to open the NSL season 1-0.
“That’s what we’ve been trying to all season is to get a good start and get momentum going, especially at home,” head coach Mario Cosma said. “It worked out for us. We established some ebb and flow during the game.”
Liberty ace Nathanael Samarin tossed a solid five innings. He allowed four runs, three earned, but did enough for the win. He struck out nine batters, including six of the first eight batters.
“Our guy on the mound pounded the zone and got ahead of hitters,” Cosma said. “He set the tone early. Nathanael is going to be our horse all season. He stepped up and did the job. It was difficult and his pitch count rose, but he gave us five solid innings. That’s what we were looking for today.”
Gage Arter came in relief and tossed two scoreless innings. He allowed a hit with two strikeouts.
“Gage has been a surprise for us,” Cosma said. “He’s done everything we’ve asked. He has come on in pressure situations and has risen to the occasion. He got six really tough outs for us and finished it out.”
The Hawks pounded out 11 hits with all nine starters getting a hit. Eight of the nine scored a run. Chase Schellenger and Jameson Frazier each had two hits. Samarin drove in two runs.
The Hawks got off to a great start with three runs in the first inning. Bradley Moon was hit by a pitch to lead off the bottom of the inning. Schellenger singled to left. The Kerman left fielder bobbled the ball and Moon went to third while Schellenger went to second.
Samarin followed with a double down the left field line to drive in Moon and Schellenger.
After a passed ball, Samarin scored on an Eli Gonzalez groundout for a 3-0 lead.
Both pitchers settled down until the fourth inning when Kerman got on the scoreboard. The Lions’ lead off batter reached on a catcher’s interference. He went to second on a wild pitch, to third on an error and scored on a single to right to cut the lead to two.
The Hawks battled back in the bottom of the inning. Gonzalez led off with a single. After a pop out, Frazier singled to runners on first and second. David Williams drew a walk to load the bases.
Arter singled past a drawn-in second baseman to drive in Gonzales and Frazier. Moon then reached on a bunt single to drive in Williams and send Arter to third.
Schellenger hit a hit-and-run grounder past the Kerman second baseman to drive in Arter and send Moon to third.
With Samarin at the plate, Moon scored on a wild pitch. Samarin hit a grounder to short and Schellenger was thrown out at the plate for the second out, but the Hawks led 8-1.
Kerman bounced back with three runs in the fifth. The first four batters of the inning reached base to drive in three runs and cut the Liberty lead to 8-4.
Liberty answered back with a run in the fifth. With one out, Quaid Copher reached second on an error. He came in to score on a Frazier single for a 9-4 lead to answer the Lions for the second straight inning.
“We’ve been struggling giving some runs late in the game and not answer,” Cosma said. “We really focused on in practice. When we give up a run, we want to scratch a run back and steal momentum as quick as possible. We did that today and the fifth inning was big for us today. When you’ve given up a couple of runs, you’re just trying to find outs.”
Liberty put the final nail in the coffin with a run in the sixth. Samarin drew a lead off walk. He went to second on a single from Colton Cardoza. After a pair of strikeouts, a pair of wild pitches scored Samarin and moved Cardoza to third. Frazier drew a walk, but the next batter popped out to end the inning with a 10-4 lead.
Arter retired the side in order in the seventh. He struck out the first batter, got Kerman’s No. 3 batter to groundout softly to Frazier at second and the clean-up batter to hit a slow grounder to Cardoza at first to end the game.