Epic comeback leads Liberty
Tyler Takeda/The Madera Tribune
Members of the Liberty Hawks baseball team surround Max Vestal after his bases loaded walk forced in Danny Sandante (9) with the game-winning run Wednesday.
Trailing by nine runs heading into the bottom of the seventh inning, most baseball teams would be packing their bags and getting ready for the end of the game.
However, the Liberty Hawks kept battling and 11 straight batters reached base, all with two outs, to tie the game at 12 with the Washington Union-Easton Panthers on Wednesday in a North Sequoia League battle.
“That’s something you just don’t see. It’s the resiliency of this group. I’m so proud of them,” head coach Derrick Kuhn said.
The Hawks completed the comeback when Max Vestal walked with the bases loaded in the bottom of the ninth inning for a 13-12 victory.
The Panthers broke open a close game with seven runs in the top of the fifth inning to take control of the game.
The Hawks scored two runs in the fifth and another in the sixth to set up the epic seventh inning.
Jakson Bucher led the Hawks with three hits. Max Nulick, Xavier Gordon and Daniel Sandante each had two hits. Sandante drove in three runs from the No. 9 spot in the order.
Hawks’ ace Nate Medina allowed just one run through the first four innings and seemed to be cruising. He had retired 10 of 11 batters before the fifth. However, he allowed four straight baserunners and the floodgates opened for the Panthers.
McGuire Smith allowed four runs in 2/3 innings and Hudson Groh allowed four more runs in an inning.
Jonah Peterson, in his first appearance of the year, struck out two in the seventh. Bucher struck out three in two perfect extra innings to pick up the win.
The Hawks had trouble with Washington Union starter Trey Morris. Morris allowed just three hits and an unearned run through five when he was taken out after an 8-2 lead.
However, the next two Panthers’ pitchers allowed 11 runs on 13 hits with three walks.
The Panthers got on the scoreboard in the first inning with a one-out walk, a stolen base and a two-out single for a 1-0 lead.
Both pitchers settled in, putting up zeroes until the fifth inning.
Liberty had two runners on base in three of the first four innings, but a pair of double plays helped Morris kept the Hawks off the scoreboard.
Then, the Panthers sent 11 batters to the plate in the fifth. They scored seven runs on five hits with a walk and two hit batters to take an 8-0 lead.
The Panthers added to the lead in the sixth with a four hits, including a lead-off triple, and an error to score four runs for a 12-2 lead.
Liberty chipped away at the lead with a pair of runs in the fifth. Cody Gomes led off with a single and advanced to second on a Sandante groundout. Smith reached on an error and Bucher loaded the bases with a single to left. Gomes came in to score on a wild pitch and Vestal flew out to right to drive in Smith.
The Hawks got a controversial run in the sixth that was huge in the outcome. With one out, Max Nulick doubled to the right-centerfield gap. He advanced to third on a Gordon single.
Gomes hit a fly ball to medium right field. Nulick tagged up and headed to the plate with the throw coming in. Nulick slid into home plate, taking the catcher with him. He was immediately ruled out because of offensive interference. However, after a conference with the base umpire, the home plate umpire reversed his decision and Nulick was ruled safe for the run to cut the lead to 12-3.
“That overturn was huge,” Kuhn said. “The umpires got together and made the right call. We’re just blessed it went our way.”
That set up the bottom of the seventh, and it wasn’t looking so bright was the top two in Liberty’s line-up — Smith and Bucher — were retired.
Facing the final out, the Hawks strung together five straight hits to begin the rally of all rallies.
Vesta started the rally with an infield single. Medina singled to center to advance Vestal to third. Vince Oberti singled home Vestal. A wild pitch moved Medina to third and Oberti to second.
Nulick hit a 1-2 pitch into centerfield to drive in both Medina and Oberti to cut the lead to 12-6. There was still more work to be done. Gordon singled and Gomes loaded the bases with a full-count walk.
Sandante lined a ball down the left field line to clear the bases. Nulick, Gomes and Gordon scored to cut the lead to 12-9.
After a change in pitchers, Smith lined a single into left to put runners at first and third. Bucher doubled down the left field line to drive in Sandate and put the tying run at second.
With Vestal at the plate, a wild pitch scored Smith to cut the Panthers’ lead to one while Bucher took third.
Vestal eventually drew a walk. Medina tied the game with a single up the middle to drive in Bucher with the tying run.
“It was the next guy up,” Kuhn said. “These guys buy into what we’re doing here. It’s not easy hitting with two outs in that last inning. They just kept getting it done. I’m just so proud.”
Peterson and Bucher retired the Panthers in order over the final three innings to set the stage for the bottom of the ninth inning.
Sandante led off with a high chopper to third. The third baseman thought the ball was popped up and didn’t throw to try to get Sandate out a first.
Smith hit a grounder to second, however, the throw to force Sandante went into left field to put two runners on. Bucher surprised the Panthers with a bunt and reached to load the bases.
Vestal watched the first three pitches go by for balls. After taking a strike, the fifth pitch was high and Vestal forced on Sandante. After Sandante scored the winning run, the Hawks celebrated with Vestal down the first base line with a 13-12 victory.