Versatile Bradford leads veteran Liberty in pursuit of playoffs

Chris Bradford has played all over the field in his three years as a starter on Liberty’s baseball team.

As a senior, he’s mostly concerned with going out a winner.

“It’s always bittersweet being a senior because you know it’s your last year,” Bradford said. “But you always want to go out with the best season of your life, so hopefully this team will do it.”

If Liberty does, Bradford will play a major role, as he has since his freshman year.

He has caught, pitched and played shortstop, second base and center field. But his biggest role this season might come as a leader if the Patriots hope to make a serious playoff run. They went 19-9-1 and missed the postseason in 2012.

“Chris has just been a straight gamer for me for four years,” Liberty coach Nick Didier said. “Anytime we’ve asked him to do something, he’s done it without question. Having him back this year just showing the younger guys the example that he’s set is a big key for our season. If he throws strikes on the mound, we’re going to go as far as he’s going to take us.”

Bradford and Nate Bennett were the Patriots’ top two pitchers last season, and both return as seniors this year.

“I think they threw two-thirds of our games last year,” Didier said.

Bradford posted a 3.67 ERA and Bennett a 3.57 ERA last year, and Didier expects those numbers to improve, especially as his senior starters get help from junior Dan Skelly.

“With the mix of Dan Skelly coming along pitching, I think we now have kind of a three-headed monster,” Didier said. “And he’s going to take some stress of our other two arms in the starting rotation and help us get more victories.”

Liberty had one senior in its everyday lineup last season, but the Patriots have nine returning seniors and seven other returning lettermen this year.

“We’re really comfortable this year having everybody back,” Bennett said. “Our team chemistry’s a lot better this year. Everybody’s been around.”

Didier is sure his team will hit, with an offense led by right fielder Jesse Keiser (.434, two home runs) and Bradford (.407), who will play second base when not pitching.

“Of course our sticks are going to be there,” Bradford said.

And the team got a confidence boost over the summer, winning the American Legion state tournament with a 4-3 win over perennial power Bishop Gorman.

“Anybody is beatable at any time when we’re playing our best,” Bennett said. “We saw that matching up against Gorman. We can beat anybody at any time if we’re playing our game.”

And Didier isn’t worried about whether his team wins the Southeast League or finishes fourth, as long as a spot in the Sunrise Region tournament is there.

“If we get the four seed or the one seed, I’ll be as happy as a clam,” Didier said. “Because our next game, we’re in and anything can happen in a playoff format. We’re just looking forward to trying to get there. That’s our ultimate goal right now is just to get in, and then we’ll go from there and see what happens.”

ARBOR VIEW — Evan McMahan
BISHOP GORMAN — Michael Blasko, Jerrel Latham, Kenny Meimerstorf
CORONADO — Chandler Blanchard, Dylan Myers
DURANGO — Brett Neighbors, Anthony Parry
ELDORADO — Lucio Arreola
FAITH LUTHERAN — Caleb Summerhays
FOOTHILL — Bligh Madris
GREEN VALLEY — Keola Paragas
LAS VEGAS — Dustin Cash
LIBERTY — Chris Bradford, Jesse Keiser
RANCHO — Bryce Harrell, Dylan Pletsch, Jose Verdugo
SIERRA VISTA — Tyler Burdett, Cole Crosby
SILVERADO — David Kuma
SPRING VALLEY — Dylan Drachler
VALLEY — Rayce Rayos
WESTERN — Josh Yocum