LIBERTY — In district semifinal action, top-seeded Liberty North and second-seeded Liberty earned unflattering victories.
The Eagles relied on four runs on their way to a shutout win, while the Blue Jays survived a late-game Park Hill South rally, which saw the third-seeded Panthers knot the score at 4-4 in the sixth inning.
Both Liberty squads, of course, went on to prevail in their semifinal affairs on Thursday, Oct. 17, to set up an all-Liberty district final for a second straight season.
As it turned out, the Eagles and Blue Jays saved their hot bats for the Class 4 District 15 championship game.
Liberty’s bats, however, were mightier, as the Blue Jays avenged two regular-season losses and earned an eye-popping 20-13 victory to claim a third straight district title on Friday, Oct. 18, at Liberty High School.
It was the second consecutive year the Blue Jays prevailed in the all-Liberty district title game. Liberty advanced to the state quarterfinals last season.
“Today we just realized that this was the big picture, that this was for a district championship,” Liberty junior outfielder Ashton Maloney said. “Yesterday was more about getting here, and today the intensity was a lot higher. The stakes were higher.”
“It felt pretty good to see us get going,” Blue Jays coach Scott Howard said. “We scored runs against them the other two times, but they really came alive tonight.”
Without question. Both teams did.
“I’m really proud of our kids,” Liberty North coach Roger Lower said. “We just didn’t pitch it very well at all. When you score 13 runs you should win the game. We were down 11 runs and we scored nine in the last three innings, so they never quit and they kept battling.”
The Eagles made a statement by striking first with a four-run bottom of the second to take a 4-0 lead. But Liberty responded with a seven-spot in the top of the third to grab a 7-4 advantage.
“With the way we responded that told me all I needed to know about who we were,” Howard said.
“I’ve said all year that we’re a response team,” Liberty senior third baseman Raeli Howerton said. “So when they got the four (runs), I was like ‘OK, this is how it’s going to happen.’ That propelled us.”
The Eagles were forced to play catch up from there. The closest Liberty North came was at 9-7 after a three-run fifth. The Eagles posted two more three-run frames in the final two innings.
It was a nine-run sixth that gave the Blue Jays an 11-run cushion. Liberty North avoided the run-rule with its three-run sixth, but it just couldn’t catch up to Liberty.
“We just fed off each other,” Liberty senior first baseman Kelsee Mortimer said. “We kept the energy up in the dugout and that really helped us.”
The Eagles ended the season with a 20-5 record, accomplishing a Suburban Red conference title and the district title appearance.
Liberty North is due to graduate five seniors — pitcher Hayden Simmons, center fielder Jayme Jackson, catcher Allyson Fansher, right fielder Abigail Brancato and pitcher Sage Lagud.
“They were kind of the reason we wouldn’t quit, because they wouldn’t let it happen,” Lower said of his seniors. “They kept encouraging the younger kids.”
The Blue Jays hosted Park Hill Wednesday, Oct. 23 in a state sectional game. The result was unavailable at press time.
Liberty players said that the team made it to this point due to a switch in mentality from the district semifinal game to the title game.
“We just went back to seeing the ball,” Liberty pitcher Brooke Niemeier said. “Facing them twice in conference, we were telling each other what we needed to do to improve and be better. We’ll take this intensity into the next game.”