Hawks come back for big win
Tyler Takeda/The Madera Tribune
The Liberty Hawks baseball team gathers around Max Vestal who hit the game-winning single during Wednesday’s 8-7 win over Clovis East.
The Clovis East Timberwolves seemed to be rolling after a five-run second inning, but the Liberty Hawks baseball team didn’t give in and followed with a four-run inning in a non-conference game at Liberty.
The Hawks stayed within striking distance of the Div. I Timberwolves and struck for two runs in the bottom of the seventh inning to walk off with an 8-7 win Wednesday afternoon.
“It’s really big any time you beat a TRAC school. Our rankings and confidence goes up,” said Max Vestal, who had the game-winning hit. “It was really big to get the win. We started off 10-1 and got into our heads a little bit. We got into tough league games against Washington Union and Kerman. It’s never easy. We were trying to scrap out a win and got it done.”
“Most teams would quit in that situation,” head coach Derrick Kuhn said. “This group is an experienced, gritty bunch that doesn’t give in. That’s huge. We had a game against Washington Union Union that didn’t go our way. We had a game Tuesday that didn’t go our way. To break through that wall and give these kids some confidence is huge.”
Freshman Danny Sandante kept the Timberwolves close. After Hudson Groh allowed seven runs in the first three innings, Sandante didn’t allow a hit over his four innings of work to pick up the win. He struck out eight and walked one for his only baserunner.
“That’s a freshman,” Kuhn said. “He did what we needed to do. I’m so proud of him. You will be seeing him on the mound.”
Vestal was the only Hawk to record more than one hit and Nate Medina was the only one to score more than one run, but it didn’t matter in the end. Clovis East outhit the Hawks 10-7, but Sandante kept the Hawks within striking distance.
The Timberwolves started the scoring in the second with a pair of two-run hits while sending nine players to the plate for a five-run lead.
However, the Hawks came back with a rally started by lead-off batter Nate Medina with a double. After a passed ball, Medina scored on a single by Matthew Prado. Prado advanced to second on a wild pitch while Dylan Whiteman drew a walk. Cody Gomes lined a double down the right field line to score Prado and advance Whiteman to third.
Sandante grounded out, but Whiteman scored. McGuire Smith singled on a 1-2 pitch to drive in Gomes to cut the lead to one.
The Timberwolves took advantage of a couple of Liberty miscues to score two more runs in the third. A dropped catch on a dropped third strike and a walk put two on. The next batter popped up a punt. Catcher Xavier Gordon just missed a diving catch, but popped up and threw to third to force out a runner.
A bloop single to left field loaded the bases. Groh got a strikeout, but a single up the middle drove in two more runs for a 7-4 lead.
Liberty came back with a Vestal single and a Medina hit by pitch.
After a strikeout, Vestal advanced to third on a wild pitch and scampered home after the throw to get him went into left field. Prado grounded out with Medina taking third. Whiteman then walked.
On the next pitch, Whiteman took off for second and Clovis East threw to get him out. The Timberwolves cut off the throw while Medina broke for the plate. Medina slid away from the tag to score the run to cut the lead to 7-6.
Sandante kept the Timerwolves off the bases in his four innings of work while the Hawks were limited to just two baserunners of the next three innings.
The tables were set for the top of the Liberty line-up in the bottom of the seventh going against one of Clovis East’s best pitchers.
Smith led off and worked a full-count walk. Bucher, who struck out three times, lined an 0-2 pitch past the left fielder for a double to score Smith to tie the game.
Vestal worked a full count before lining a ball over the left fielder’s head. Bucher hustled around the bases to score the game-winning run while the team ran to second to engulf Vestal in celebration.
“I was really not trying to get the game-winning hit,” Vestal said. “I was just trying to get Jakson to third knowing we have Nate coming up. He’s one of our better hitters. I was trusting the team. It just so happened I got the job done and we walked it off.”
“Jakson is one of the best shortstops in the valley,” Kuhn said. “He’s a four-year varsity guy. No matter, he’s gritty. It’s always the next pitch for him. You’re not going to meet a harder worker than Max Vestal. There wasn’t a doubt in my mind to bunt there. It was his time to get it done.”