Liberty baseball beat CBC, advance to state final

Liberty baseball earned a spot in the state finals with a 8-2 victory over Christian Brothers College Friday, June 4, at U.S. Ballpark in Ozark. Liberty sophomore pitcher Kai Bennett is pictured.

LIBERTY — Liberty baseball earned a spot in the state finals with a 8-2 victory over Christian Brothers College Friday, June 4, at U.S. Ballpark in Ozark.

The Jays built up a 4-2 lead, which looked modest compared to the team’s large advantage in hits, before breaking through with a four-run seventh inning to put the game away.

Liberty got on the board first when junior Jeremiah Cabuyaban hit a sacrifice grounder where Cadets third baseman Ayden Robinson-Wayne opted for a throw to first while Jays senior Dawson Goe crossed home for the score.

CBC responded with two runs over the first two innings, including Nick Zanetello powering a solo homer over the outfield wall.

Bennett said the early scoring for the Cadets did not rattle him. He focused on keeping the ball low and trusting his defense to make plays if he forced weak contact from the batters.

Despite this being his first season playing for the Jays, Bennett said already had enough opportunities in high-pressure moments to feel comfortable on this big stage.

“We all just have to have the right mindset going into it,” Bennett said. “Our lineup is really good 1 through 9. If I give up a few runs, I know that they’re going to come pick me up.”

Bennett proved prophetic as he kept the Cadets off the board through the next three and two-thirds innings, limiting his opposition to four hits during that stretch. He finished with four strikeouts. Junior Karson Milbrandt entered the game for the final four outs, picking up two strikeouts and did not allow a single batter to reach a base.

During that time, the Jays churned out constant offense despite going four innings with only two runs, the second coming off a line-drive double from senior Ryan Williams in the third inning. The Jays left five runners on base and had numerous others get tagged out as the team stayed aggressive and kept the pressure on the Cadets defense.

Liberty remained tied 2-all with a 7-2 advantage in hits through four innings. The team earned six more hits as they scored six unanswered runs the rest of the way.

Senior Aiden Watson put a sacrifice fly into left field that allowed sophomore Chase Littrell to score the go-ahead run.

Williams got in the action again by sending home sophomore Addison Smith with a single on a line drive to right field.

Liberty head coach Kirk Bragg said Williams was clutch for the Jays. Williams went 0 for 4 from the plate in the state quarterfinals against Raymore-Peculiar, but he went 4 for 4 with four RBIs against the Cadets.

“He didn’t have his best performance against Ray-Pec, but we know we’re going to stick with him,” Bragg said. “Coming in and doing what he did today, that’s nothing but senior leadership.”

That performance came in a game where the offense was producing hits but not quite executing the game plan to get runners in scoring position. Liberty opted for more comfort in the final frame when they exploded for four runs in the top of the seventh.

Watson started the scoring barrage with a line-drive single to left field, sending Littrell in for the score. Williams wrapped up his four-RBI day by sending Smith and Goe home on a single with a hard ground ball to right field.

Williams said he saw the ball really well during the game.

“I tried to stay patient in the counts, not getting myself out too early and wait for him to put something in the zone,” Williams said.

Cabuyaban finished off the scoring barrage with a sacrifice to the pitcher that allowed Watson to cross home plate.

Liberty added to its all-time high season win total in program history by moving to 31-9 on the year. The Jays have reached the state final for the first time since doing so a decade ago.

The Jays kept the celebrations to a minimum after putting themselves one game away from a state title.

“We want to stay as relaxed as possible,” Williams said. “We know we’ve got a big one tomorrow.”

Liberty will face Fort Zumwalt West in the state championship game at 6:30 p.m. Saturday, June 5, at U.S. Baseball Park in Ozark.

The Jaguars dismantled Jefferson City 11-0 in their semifinal matchup following the Jays victory. Ft. Zumwalt West scored all of their runs in the first two innings and earned the run-rule victory in a five-inning game.

Sports Writer Mac Moore can be reached at 389-6643 or mac.moore@mycouriertribune.com.

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