Liberty dethrones Gorman with ninth-inning rally

Liberty’s Michael Vargas was well aware of Bishop Gorman’s credentials as he stepped to the plate in the top of the ninth inning Saturday.

He knew that the defending champion Titans had won five of the past six American Legion baseball state championships, and he knew they had manhandled their opponents in four consecutive wins heading into the title game.

But none of that mattered to Vargas.

In the Patriots’ first championship appearance, Vargas drove a two-run single to right field to tie the game with one out. Liberty (26-8) scored the go-ahead run one batter later on a Gorman throwing error and held on for a 4-3 title victory in the state championship at Wilson Stadium.

“We beat a great team,” said Liberty coach Mike Eshragh. “Gorman has been here before. They’ve done that and they’ve got the experience.”

The win not only dethroned the perennial champion Titans (40-11), but also spoiled Gorman’s impressive march through the losers’ bracket after an opening-round loss to Coronado.

“But you’ve got to beat the best to be the best,” Eshragh said.

The Titans jumped ahead early, taking a 1-0 first-inning lead when Cole Krzmarzick walked and Cody Roper followed with an RBI double to right-center field. A single by Kenny Meimerstorf in the third drove in Jerrel Latham to make it 2-0.

Liberty went on the attack with one out in the fifth inning. Joe Maurer and Preston Pavlica had back-to-back singles, and James Marz walked to load the bases. But Vargas grounded into a double play to end the threat.

But the Patriots made the most of two singles and two Gorman errors in the sixth to cut their deficit to 2-1 on an RBI fielder’s choice by Daniel Skelly. Gorman starter Cody Roper was chased from the game, but Cadyn Grenier came on in relief with the bases loaded to retire the next two Patriots batters without further damage.

The Titans tacked on a security run with a solo homer by Michael Blasko in the eighth, but the Patriots loaded the bases with one out in the ninth, leading to Vargas’ heroics.

Marcos Rivera then grounded into what appeared to be an inning-ending double play, but Gorman second baseman Kai Domingo threw high to first base. The error allowed James Marz to score from third to give Liberty a 4-3 lead.

“We felt like we had squandered a lot of opportunities up to that point,” Eshragh said. “So I brought the guys up before the ninth and told them they had to believe in themselves. They believed and it happened.”

Vargas went 2-for-4 for Liberty, and Cody Roper went 2-for-3 with a double, a walk and an RBI to lead Gorman.