No. 20 seed Liberty won a couple of one-run games in single-elimination rounds to survive to the Elite 8 of Division I baseball.
On Thursday its winning margin was wider, but just as harrowing and satisfying. A five-run rally in the sixth inning erased a 1-0 deficit and carried the unheralded Lions to a 5-2 victory over No. 5 Sandra Day O'Connor at Tempe Diablo Stadium.
“Sandra Day O'Connor is an outstanding club with four or five Division I players,” Liberty coach Jonn Freitas said. “Our pitchers did a good job holding their bats in check. We got a rally going and put up that five spot.”
Through five innings SDO lefty Corey Wilson had a one-hitter and faced one batter over the minimum. But Wilson hit two players in the sixth — one with one out and the next with two out. Shortstop Tyler Wyatt singled in the tying run to finish Wilson. SDO brought on reliever Degan Harte to stifle the rally, but Liberty catcher Tyler Vanderham ripped a two-run double down the left-field line to snap the tie and key the big outburst.
“The hit batters were the catalyst,” Freitas said. “It's mistakes the other guy makes and you capitalize on that usually makes the difference.”
Also making a difference in the middle of the game and at the end to close this was Liberty junior pitcher Nathan Pauga. Pauga tossed three innings of one-run relief. The run he gave up was unearned in the bottom of the sixth after Liberty had plated five to take the lead. Pauga came on for Hunter Cunningham, who gave up just a bunt single in 3 1/3 innings, but walked four which led to SDO's first run.
Sophomore lefty Vinnie Cafarelli got the final two outs with two on, striking out one and getting the dangerous Cameron Ming on a fly to center to end the game.
Liberty (22-9) advances to Saturday's winner' bracket to face the Hamilton-Mesquite winner at 6:30 p.m. at Diablo Stadium. SDO (22-8) plays again on Saturday in an elimination game with the Hamilton-Mesquite loser. That game is set for 4 p.m. at Maryvale Baseball Stadium.