Wendy Alexander/The Madera Tribune
The Liberty Hawks baseball team celebrates with the Div. V Central Section champioship plaque after a 2-1 victory Friday at Fresno State’s Pete Beiden Field in Bob Bennett Stadium against the top-seeded Minarets Mustangs for its second straight Div. V title.
Interference call the difference in back-to-back titles for Liberty
FRESNO — The Liberty Hawks baseball team leaned on its ace and its ace leaned on its defense to hold off the Minarets Mustangs in 2-1 victory to capture its second straight Div. V Central Section Championship.
The second-seeded Hawks scored a run in the second and third innings and Nathanael Samarin made the runs stand up against top-seeded Minarets on Friday at Fresno State’s Pete Beiden Field at Bob Bennett Stadium.
“Winning back-to-back is tough because you fear, as a coach, of the hangover from the previous year,” head coach Mario Cosma said. “I have to hand it to our kids. We had a game in the middle of the year that really turned the tide for us. Ever since that game, we really started playing really well. The guys started to get back to what it means to play winning baseball. They had an opportunity to do this again. Give it to Minarets. They played a heck of a game. They pitched it really well. We just got fortunate on a couple of plays. They had a great season, but it’s great to be a champion again.”
Colton Cardoza scored a run in the second and Quaid Copher scored on an interference call in the third inning for all the runs Samarin needed.
“With a one run lead, anything can happen,” Samarin said. “I was confident in both myself and defense. It was a complete team win and a great way to end my high school career.”
Samarin tossed a complete game and allowed just four hits with a pair of strikeouts. He didn’t walk a batter and allowed just two baserunners to reach scoring position.
“It was a lot of the same stuff from the previous week,” Samarin said. “I was able to get into a rhythm early and that was the key in both games. I had my stuff working and had a great team behind me backing me up. I couldn’t have asked for a better performance out there. You can tell we’ve been in the moment before and it was great to see the guys ready to play.”
“Nathanael has been a really unbelievable player at Liberty High School,” Cosma said. “His career over the four years is going to be untouchable for a long time to come. I couldn’t be more proud of him. His character, the way he leads the team and the way he performs is unbelievable.”
Minarets ace lefty Aaron Hall limited the Hawks to just three hits, but three walks helped aid to the Liberty victory.
Copher, Samarin and freshman Jakson Bucher were the only Hawks with hits.
“It feels great to win two in a row,” Copher, a sophomore, said. “I’m coming back next year for another one.”
“It feels awesome,” senior Bradley Moon said of the victory. “It’s the first time (winning back-to-back titles) in school history and it’s really cool.”
After perfect first innings by Samarin and Hall, Cardoza led off the second inning by drawing a full-count walk.
With Trevor Porter at the plate, Cardoza stole second. Hall struck out the next two batters, but Bucher knocked the second pitch he saw into centerfield. Cardoza raced around third and slid safely into home plate, earning a scrape on the knee in the process.
“It was the best feeling ever to score that first run,” Cardoza, who celebrated his birthday at the game, said. “It gives the pitcher a good cushion. It made the strawberry on my knee well worth it. I’m not going to play the game again so I might as well get as many scars, cuts, bruises and rings as I can. It’s by far the best birthday ever.”
With one out, Copher gave Samarin an insurance run with a single to right-center. After a fly out, Samarin lined a ball to right field on a hit-and-run.
Copher took off for third and Cosma waved him around to the plate. In the process of heading to the plate, Copher had to jump over Hall, who fell on his way to back up third. Copher then ran to the plate to score an unimpeded run.
“The pitcher was backing up third and he fell down in the baseline,” Copher said. “I jumped over him to run to the plate. The umpire yelled interference so I knew I was home free.”
“We got real fortunate in the third inning where their guy got in our way,” Cosma said. “I saw the throw was bobbled so I kept sending Quaid. He ended up running into the pitcher and it was the difference in the ball game. It was an unbelievable play. It was unfortunate for them and very fortunate for us.”
Meanwhile, Samarin was cruising and retired the first eight batters to open the game.
He allowed a single up the middle to Minarets’
No. 9 batter, Syler Pillbury. On the next pitch, Hall sent a fly ball to deep left-centerfield.
Leftfielder Porter tracked it down, but, at the last second, lost the ball in the sun. The ball glanced off his glove and landed onto the grass. Pillbury raced around the bases to score. Hall hit second and advanced to third on the throw to the plate.
Samarin settled down and got a groundout to shortstop Chase Schellenger to end the inning.
Samarin allowed a baserunner in three of the next four innings — all with two outs — and none advanced to second.
Three straight innings Minarets got a two out baserunner trailing by a run. Samarin got a popout to Schellenger, a lineout to Gage Arter at first and a flyout to Porter in left in the sixth.
Bradley Moon walked with one out in the fourth. He stole second, but was caught stealing third two batters later.
Copher was hit by a pitch with two outs in the fifth, but a lineout by Schellenger ended the inning.
Bucher drew a one out walk in the sixth, but was picked off first two batters later.
In the seventh, Samarin got a flyout to Porter for the first out. A groundout to Schellenger was the second out.
The next batter hit a high fly ball to center, However, it wasn’t deep enough to cause any damage and Moon settled underneath it to close out a 2-1 victory for Liberty’s second straight Div. V championship.
“My heart definitely skipped a beat, but it was great to see Moon come up with it,” Samarin said. “
“I was thinking we were going to win it,” Moon said. “I was excited and anxious. I was happy the ball was hit to me last.”