LIBERTY — Liberty baseball found a way to maintain all of its momentum from the end of its semifinal as it shell-shocked the top-ranked Missouri Class 6 team in Ft. Zumwalt West in the early going.

The Jays built a five-run lead after two innings Saturday, June 5, and never relinquished control in an 8-4 win over the Jaguars at U.S. Baseball Park in Ozark.

The win marked Liberty’s second state title in program history. The Blue Jays won their first in 2002 and finished runner-up in 2011 before taking third in 2012.

Liberty head coach Kirk Bragg said this was a team where he knew early in the season that they had a lot of the necessary parts to make a deep run, but he wasn’t entirely sure if they would put it all together.

“Then something just clicked,” Bragg said. “They bought into everything we were doing, system ball. Then the pitching started working and we just started beating teams that I thought were really good. It just kept rolling.”

Liberty finished the year on a 10-game win streak and earned postseason victories over the top two ranked Class 6 teams in the Missouri High School Baseball Coaches Association’s final regular season poll.

The Jays beat No. 2-ranked Liberty North in the district championship game, taking three season victories to one against their crosstown rival that finished 28-6 on the season. The team also beat the Class 5 runner-up Grain Valley twice in the regular season.

“It’s just so special,” Bragg said. “Special for not only the players, but for the community, the parents, (team photographer) Eric Langhorst. All the people that have spent all this time and effort on these guys.”

The Jays arrived for the state final loose and relaxed after they advanced past the semifinal with a 4-run final inning to seal an 8-4 victory over Christian Brothers College. Bragg said the players were chanting and rapping loud enough to shake the bus as they pulled into the parking lot.

They needed to maintain that energy for nearly half a day as their championship game started three hours behind schedule and ended up concluding after midnight on Sunday.

Liberty seemed to stay right on schedule. The Jays soared out to seven runs in the first two innings as the team took a commanding lead and never looked back.

Liberty’s first three batters made it on base in the bottom of the first inning before senior Ryan Williams grounded into a double play, sending sophomore Addison Smith in for the score. A double steal got senior Dawson Goe home for a run while putting junior Jeremiah Cabuyaban into scoring position on second.

Junior Palmer Holst made it 3-0 as he sent Cabuyaban around the bases on a pop-fly single to left field.

Zumwalt West looked like it might be able to turn the game into a high-scoring affair when the Jaguars scored two runs on a two-out, bases-loaded single in the top of the second inning.

But the Jays answered right back with an impressive showing in the bottom half of the inning.

Senior Grant Littrell turned a walk into a scoring threat as he stole second and third. Smith join him in scoring position thanks to a walk and reaching second on a fielder’s choice bunt from Goe. Senior Aiden Watson took advantage as he blasted a line-drive double to right field to send Littrell and Smith home.

The Jaguars tagged Watson on a rundown between second and third following a grounder from Williams, but an error trying to pick up the double play at second allowed Williams to score as the ball sailed into the outfield.

Junior Brock Toney surrendered two more runs in the fourth inning as Liberty’s lead got trimmed to 7-4, but momentum for Zumwalt West disappeared before the Jays ever returned to the plate.

After a bang-bang play resulted in a Jags out at first base, the umpires ejected the team’s first-base coach Ryan Oetting for crossing the base line to argue the call. Zumwalt West head coach Eric Gough quickly earned an ejection as well.

The coaching changes likely would not have mattered as Bragg opted to put junior Karson Milbrandt on the mound, starting with the final out in the fourth. Toney finished his day with one strikeout, allowing four runs and six hits over just short of four innings.

Milbrandt looked loose from the moment he got off the bus and that did not change when he entered the game. Any chance for Milbrandt to feel pressure heading into his second day of closer duties disappeared when Liberty took the five-run lead after the second inning.

“I knew that was game,” Milbrandt said. “Toney is a dog and our offense just kept rolling.”

Milbrandt utilized a combination of power and control, refusing to let the Jags close the gap created in the first four innings. He kept the bases clear through the fifth and sixth innings as he earned three strikeouts.

Milbrandt gave up his second hit to start the top of the seventh before the next batter hit into a fielder’s choice at short stop. Smith opted for the out at second. The last batter hit into a double play for Goe at second.

Goe, who also scored the Jays final run in the bottom of the sixth by stealing home for the second time in the game, beat the runner with a throw to Watson at first and earned the final out to secure the state championship.

The sound of the ball hitting Watson’s glove cued the Jays to start a bee line for the mound. Milbrandt became the bottom of the Jays dog pile and senior Keaton O’Connor became the final leaper at the top of the pile after he arrived from left field.

Liberty also pushed their record for most wins in a season to 32 with their state championship victory. The team broke the previous mark of 28 that had been set during multiple seasons, including when these outgoing seniors were freshmen in 2019.

Liberty senior class of Watson, Williams, Goe, Littrell, O’Connor, Justin Agnor, Caleb Cahill, Jason Cross, and Colin Stanfield will have the rare honor of finishing their high school careers on a state championship win.

“It’s the greatest feeling ever,” Watson said. “It’s my last game ever as Blue Jay and we’ve been dreaming of this for the past four years. We finally got it done.”

Sports Writer Mac Moore can be reached at 389-6643.

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

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