Wendy Alexander/The madera Tribune
Liberty right-hander Nathanael Samarin throws a pitch during a three-hit shutout over the Washington Union Panthers in the Div. V quarterfinals. Samarin struck out nine and didn’t walk a batter in the 5-0 victory.
Behind a dominant pitching performance from Nathanael Samarin, the Liberty Hawks baseball team took one step closer in its quest for a Div. V Central Section championship repeat.
Samarin tossed a complete game shutout to lead the second-seeded Hawks to a 5-0 victory Friday over the 10th-seeded Washington Union-Easton Panthers.
Liberty hosts No. 3 Corcoran today in the Div. V semifinals for an opportunity to defend last year’s championship.
Samarin, who tossed 48 inning this season, limited the Panthers to just three hits with nine strikeouts and didn’t issue a walk. Samarin got the save in the last year’s Valley Championship game victory with seven strikeouts over the final three innings.
“I had a good week of practice and a good bullpen on Wednesday so my arm felt fresh today,” Samarin said. “Pressure situations are the most fun for me. It’s something that I can enjoy in the playoffs. Pitching in the Valley was the big one. That was the best.”
“Nate did a really great job,” head coach Mario Cosma said. “He struggled early in the season, but we got our guy back. He really threw a heck of a game. He competed and pounded the strike zone.”
Samarin kept the Panthers’ batters off balance with a mix of change-ups, curveballs and an overwhelming fastball.
“We’ve played them before so I knew what kind of hitters they are,” catcher Colton Cardoza said. “With Nate being our ace, I felt really confident in him. I know when he’s on and when he’s off and he was on today. His off speed pitches were really good today.”
“Colton was a wall back there,” Samarin said. “I didn’t shake him off too many times. He threw that guy out at second and that was huge.”
Samarin also took comfort in an early lead that the Hawks built. Liberty scored a run in the first, second and fourth innings and added two more in the fifth.
“Playing at home, you really want to jump ahead early,” Cosma said. “We were able to do that and settle our guys down. We got some timely hits and put some innings in there. We ran the bases well. I couldn’t be more pleased with the effort today.”
“When you give the pitcher a little pillow because it gives the pitcher a little uplift and good attitude for the rest of the game,” Cardoza said.
“Pitching with the lead is a big help when they can get a few runs early,” Samarin said. “It eases the pressure.”
Six different Hawks got hits against the Panthers’ soft-tossing pitching. Chase Schellenger hit a triple and scored two runs. Gage Arter and Jakson Bucher each hit doubles.
Samarin was doing his best to keep the Panthers off balance. He allowed is only runner to reach third in the second inning, but he threw him out at the plate on a safety squeeze.
Cardoza set the tone early by throwing out the Panthers’ lead off hitter in the top of the first inning. Samarin also got a 6-4-3 double play in the seventh. He closed the game by retiring nine of the final 10 batters.
With one out in the bottom of the first, Schellenger drew a four-pitch walk. On an 0-2 pitch, Cosma called for a hit-and-run. Samarin singled to center to advance Schellenger to third while Samarin took second on the play. Cardoza grounded out to second, but it allowed Schellenger to score the first run of the game.
With two outs in the second, Arter doubled down the left field line. On a full-count pitch. David Williams singled and Arter scored for a 2-0 lead.
Trevor Porter led off the fourth with a single. He stole second and went to third on a Bradley Moon groundout. Bucher followed with a double to deep left-center for a 3-0 lead.
Liberty added insurance runs in the fifth. Quaid Copher reached on an error and advanced to second. Schellenger lined a ball down the left field line. Copher scored and Schellenger went into third with a triple.
After a groundout, a wild pitch to Cardoza allowed Schellenger to score for the 5-0 lead, which was more than enough for Samarin on the mound.