Tyler Takeda/The Madera Tribune
The Liberty Hawks baseball team celebrates its first Valley Championship since 2009 after Friday’s 4-2 victory over the Arvin Bears in the Div. V Valley Championship game in Rawhide Stadium in Visalia
VISALIA — After nine long years, the Liberty Hawks baseball team will bring hardware home after defeating the Arvin Bears, 4-2, in the Div. V Central Section championship game at Rawhide Stadium in Visalia.
“You know, we got kind of tired of looking at that thing after a while.” Liberty head coach Mario Cosma said on his school’s last championship. “The guys have just worked really hard and put everything into each day of practice. From day one, we really stressed the fundamentals. We were really tough on them, but as the season progressed, they started to get how we do things.
“It’s just a culmination of hard work from our players, our community support, high school administration and our student body coming out here. It’s just a tremendous community where we’re at in the Ranchos. We can’t be more proud of our program, our school and proud of our guys. This is what it’s all about, this is why we play the games. I can’t be more happy than I am right now, it’s just an awesome feeling.”
The Hawks, coming off two dominant wins in the playoffs, only needed one inning to secure the school’s first baseball championship since 2009.
Four runs in the top of the second was more than enough for Liberty, the No. 4 seed.
Bradley Moon, Chase Schellenger and Eli Gonzalez combined for four hits, two RBIs and two runs, Colton Cardoza on the other hand, had three hits to pace the Hawks to victory.
On the mound, Gage Arter and Nathanael Samarin stifled the Arvin Bears, even though they came in as the No. 2 seeded team.
Arter got the start and went four innings, allowing four hits, while Samarin closed out the ball game with three hitless innings and seven strikeouts for the save.
“Coach has been talking to me all year to not let that one moment early in the game let me down,” Samarin said. “He said to be prepared for the end of the game when your number could be called and you have to capitalize. That’s what me and the team did today. I had a pretty good idea that I would pitch later in the game. We rode Gage and he did a good job to give us a chance to win.
The matchup was the second time in a row that the Liberty Hawks faced a higher-seeded team, but that didn’t matter for the Hawks. Liberty advanced to the title game after a 17-0 shellacking of top seed Minarets on May 22.
The action happened early for both teams.
Liberty opened the game with a quiet first inning, but the volume soon picked up in the bottom of the second.
After Jameson Frazier earned a walk and went to second on a wild pickoff throw, Eli Gonzalez hit a sharp grounder up the middle to drive in Frazier for the first run of the championship game.
A second costly error by the Bears opened the floodgates for the Hawks.
Gonzalez stole second base before an error on Arvin’s shortstop who fired high to his first baseman, allowing David Williams to reach base. Gonzalez sprinted home, doubling Liberty’s lead early.
Williams’ stint on base was short lived after Moon came to the plate and singled home his teammate after Williams advanced to second on the error. The Bears limited Moon to a single, however defensive miscues delayed the relay throw, giving Gonzalez a safe path home.
Schellenger had an opportunity with Moon on the bases to give his team some insurance and he delivered. Although, with the help of the opposing team.
Schellenger connected and hit a sharp grounder to third base. The Arvin infielder collected the ball but fired wide of his target. Moon raced around the bases to score the fourth run of the inning.
Arvin added two unearned runs in the bottom of the third. An error allowed the lead-off batter to reach base. A single put runners at first and second. The next batter hit a grounder to third. The Hawks got the force at second and caught the Arvin runner between third and home in a rundown. Arvin slid into home as Arter placed the tag. However, Arter dropped the ball and the run scored. Another error allowed Arvin to score the second run of the inning.
Arter got out of the inning with a strikeout and forceout.
Samarin came in relief of Arter and the change from the breaking ball-specialist of Arter to the flame throwing of Samarin proved no match for the Bears. Samarin didn’t allow a baserunner over the final three innings. He struck out seven of the nine batters he faced, including the final one to set up a dogpile near the pitcher’s mound with the Div. V Championship.
Although the future looks bright for the Hawks, this year’s group of seniors had to be recognized Cosma said.
“We’ve had some tremendous seniors, so I got to talk about the seniors first,” Cosma said. “Eli, Jameson, Keaton Ellis and Garret McFarland, those guys have really been extensions of our coaching staff to all the younger guys. We do have a strong junior class, but that senior leadership has been tremendous for us. We couldn’t ask for anything more. They bought in from day one and they’re first-class guys and great players.
“We do have a good class coming back and we’re excited about that, but the expectation here is going to be the same. Every single day out there, we’re trying to get better and that will never change. So, the future is bright for Liberty baseball.”
“It’s definitely a good feeling and optimistic for next year,” Samarin said. “I’m already getting ready for next year.”
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Sports Editor Tyler A. Takeda also contributed to this story.