Liberty’s pitching depth to be tested in Legion regional

Liberty’s baseball program narrowly missed the Sunrise Region playoffs during the high school season.

The Patriots made sure their summer will be more memorable.

Fresh off its first American Legion state title, Liberty will represent Nevada in the American Legion Western Regional beginning Thursday in Fairfield, Calif.

“It means a lot to this team. We’ve been working our butts off so hard from day one to get here,” first baseman Michael Vargas said. “We missed the (high school) playoffs, but to come back and win state felt great for this whole team.”

Liberty (26-8) opens the eight-team, double-elimination regional against Castroville, Texas, at about 12:30 p.m. Thursday at Yarbrough Field. The championship round is set for Monday, with the winner advancing to the American Legion World Series in Shelby, N.C.

The Patriots earned their spot in the regional by going 4-0 in the state tournament, including a 4-3 comeback win over Bishop Gorman in the title game.

“Since the beginning, this is the biggest achievement that Liberty’s ever had in our baseball program,” Patriots coach Mike Eshragh said. “We’re just very proud of our kids. We knew we had the capability of doing it. For it to come to fruition, it’s a very proud moment as a coaching staff and as a program.”

Eshragh said various injuries have cut Liberty’s roster to 13 active players as of Tuesday’s practice, meaning the Patriots’ pitching depth will be tested.

Thursday, the Patriots likely will turn to ace right-hander Marcos Rivera (8-1), who pitched a complete game in the state final against Gorman.

“Every big game, we’ve given him the ball, and he did a great job for us all summer long,” Eshragh said.

Rivera, a 2011 Liberty graduate, said winning a state title felt extra special because he doesn’t plan to play college baseball next year.

Liberty is known as a football school, but Rivera expressed pride in bringing excitement to the baseball program.

“I can tell you that everybody here’s pretty much kind of blown away,” he said. “It’s the first time in the school’s history for baseball that we have a championship to bring home.”

Vargas, the Gold Division Most Outstanding Player, has been a tough out in the Patriots’ lineup all summer. The recent Liberty graduate is batting .439 with eight home runs and 59 RBIs.

“It’s been an amazing senior year. I couldn’t ask for a better team to play for,” said Vargas, who plans to play at Butte College (Calif.) next year.

Preston Pavlica, Liberty’s No. 9 hitter during the high school season, has thrived as the Patriots’ leadoff hitter this summer. The rising sophomore center fielder is batting .388 with 41 runs and 18 stolen bases.

“We’ve groomed him to be a top-of-the-line guy in our lineup, and he stepped up when it mattered at the end of the season,” Eshragh said.

NOTE — The Silver Division state title went to Shadow Ridge, which will open the Central Plains Regional Division II Tournament against Ely (Minn.) in Wahpeton, N.D., at 9 a.m. Thursday.

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