RENO — Liberty’s Jay Martz doesn’t have much big-game pitching experience. In fact, he doesn’t have much pitching experience at all.
But that didn’t stop the senior right-hander from looking the part of the ace on Thursday.
Martz fired a two-hitter, and Liberty exploded for eight runs in the sixth inning en route to an 11-2 win over Damonte Ranch in the Division I state baseball tournament at UNR’s Peccole Park.
“Jay’s a competitor, and every time he doesn’t have the ball, he gives me a dirty look,” Libety coach Nick Didier said. “He’s just a great kid and a pleasure to coach. And I’m glad he’s on my team. He’s done a phenomenal job all year, and he’s not done yet. We’ve got a couple more to go.”
Liberty (29-5) plays Centennial (26-11) at 4:30 p.m. Friday at Peccole. Damonte Ranch (26-12) plays Reno (33-4) at 2 p.m. in an elimination game.
Martz finished with six strikeouts and three walks. His only rough inning came in the third with Liberty leading, 3-0.
Martz walked the first two batters to dig himself a hole, and Grant Goff singled through the left side to make it 3-1.
Martz retired the next two batters, but then uncorked a wild pitch. The ball caromed off the backstop back to catcher Brandon Soratos, who flipped the ball to Martz at the plate, but Matt Barrett got under the tag to make it 3-2.
Andy Calingaert then hit a sharp liner back at Martz. The ball hit him in the leg and ricocheted directly to second baseman Nick Rush, who fired to first to end the inning and strand a runner in scoring position.
“We preach throw strikes and make the other team earn it,” Didier said. “And after that inning where he had a little bit of trouble, he settled down a little bit and threw a lot of strikes. And we got the (win) because of that: good pitching and playing defense.”
Martz, who is in his first year pitching in high school, said he’s becoming more and more comfortable with every start. And Thursday, he said he was commanding all of his pitches.
“It was awesome,” Martz said. “It was fun to play in a great ballpark with my team, and I’m glad to win.”
Liberty left a runner on third base in four straight innings as the Patriots struggled to come up with the big hit.
“We didn’t execute like we normally do, but we’re just glad to get a win and still be here,” Martz said.
The Patriots broke through in the sixth, sending 11 batters to the plate and scoring eight runs on eight hits.
Dan Skelly was huge in the inning, providing an RBI triple and a run-scoring double.
“We were getting a little frustrated,” Didier said. “It’s a big stage, but we need to play the same game. The game doesn’t change. Finally we relaxed, got some big clutch hits and we were able to score some runs.”
Martz thinks the offensive display is just a sign of what the Patriots are capable of.
“We hit the ball hard all year, and we’re going to continue to do it,” Martz said.
Didier hopes the big sixth inning wakes up the offense for the remainder of the tournament.
“It’s just timely hitting,” Didier said. “Big, two-out hits are always key. By no means was this an easy game and the score doesn’t really tell how the game went. So big, two-out hits are going to be key and hopefully our lineup gets clicking at the right time and we can do some special things.”
Skelly was 3-for-4, and Josh McCollum went 2-for-2 with two runs and two RBIs for Liberty, which saw eight of nine starters get at least one hit. Justin Lutes was 2-for-3 with a triple and two RBIs for the Patriots.
Centennial 7, Reno 4 — Pinch-hitter Jared Drizin lined a three-run triple into the right-field corner with two outs in the bottom of the sixth to give the Bulldogs a 5-4 lead, and they tacked on two more unearned runs in the inning en route to the win.
Cooper Powell fired a two-hitter, striking out eight and walking four, to get the win. He also hit three batters.
Powell took a no-hitter into the sixth, and the Bulldogs led 2-0.
But Powell walked the leadoff hitter, and hit the next batter. A one-out walk loaded the bases for Reno cleanup hitter Jeremy Peterson, who drove a 2-2 pitch over the wall in left-center field for a grand slam and a 4-2 Reno lead.
Reno starter Matthew Young matched Powell pitch-for-pitch through three innings, but the Bulldogs got to him in the fourth.
Centennial started the inning with back-to-back singles from Kyle Hoton and Jake Portaro. The runners moved up on a swinging bunt by Powell, and Will Loucks lined a two-out, two-run double into the left-field corner to break the scoreless tie.
Young was able to pitch around trouble in the fifth. Hayden Grant led off with a double inside the bag at third, and Ricky Koplow bunted him to third.
But Tanner Wright hit a grounder to second with the infield in, and Garrett Gouldsmith fired to the plate to get Grant.
Young then had Wright picked off first, but the throw from first baseman Cooper Krug went into left field for an error, allowing Wright to go to third.
But Horton flew out harmlessly to right to end the inning.
Young allowed two earned runs on seven hits in 5 2/3 innings. He struck out eight with one walk.