Patriots fight back, down Spartans in extra innings

Liberty baseball coach Nick Didier knew his players were in for a dog fight Friday at Cimarron-Memorial.

The Spartans won last season’s Southwest League championship over national powerhouse Bishop Gorman, and they opened their current campaign at 10-4.

“Anytime that you play Cimarron, you know you’re going to be in a fight, no matter what kids are on the field,” Didier said. “They’re well coached. … I was a little nervous there because we weren’t swinging the bats well. I know we’re a better hitting team than that.”

Second-ranked Liberty fell behind 8-4 after four innings, but rallied late to down the No. 4 Spartans 12-10 in eight innings.

Trailing 8-7 in the top of the seventh, Preston Pavlica fought back from an 0-2 count and took a 3-2 pitch into right-center field for a leadoff triple. Ethan Ibarra’s sacrifice fly brought in Pavlica to tie the game 8-8.

“That was probably the biggest hit of the game,” Didier said. “(Preston’s) been a good hitter his entire time here. To come up there and actually get that big knock, that started a bit of a rally for us and gave us new life. He’s a clutch player, and I’m just proud of him.”

Josh McCollum hit another sacrifice fly to score pinch runner Nick Woolery, who ran after Justin Lutes’ walk. Jesse Keiser then hit an RBI single up the middle to score Trevor Mullaney and give the Patriots (13-2) a 10-8 lead heading into the bottom of the seventh. Though Keiser started 0-for-3, the senior hit RBI singles when they counted most late in the game.

“Jesse is always locked in,” Didier said. “He’s a player that, when he comes to the yard, he’s going to be ready to play. He’s going to UNLV for a reason, and that’s because of his work ethic. He’s determined to be successful on the baseball field.”

Cimarron answered by scoring two runs in the bottom of the inning to put the game into extra innings.

Ryan McHale hit an RBI single to score Jamie Yanchisin, and then Alexander Marco’s sacrifice fly to center scored Trevor Lippard to make it 10-10.

But Micquel Robinson walked three consecutive batters in the eighth to load the bases for Liberty. An error through the legs of Logan Bottrell scored two runs to give the Patriots a 12-10 lead.

The Spartans (10-5) committed five errors and walked nine batters in the game.

“We took advantage of what they gave us,” Didier said. “I know that wasn’t their best, but we’ll take what we can get.”

Jake DiGregorio earned the win for Liberty in a game that had 10 combined pitchers.

Pavlica was 2-for-3 with three runs, and McCollum had three walks, two runs and an RBI. Jay Martz, Keiser, Ibarra and Lutes all had two RBIs for the Patriots, who were without a hit until Lutes’ single in the fourth inning.

Cimarron’s Larry Quaney was 2-for-4 with a home run, a double and two RBIs. Adam Mitchell added two singles and three RBIs, and Tyler Giovinco went 2-for-3 with a double, a walk and two RBIs for the Spartans.

“Anytime you get a win against (Cimarron), it’s always a feather in your cap,” Didier said. “They’re a great team and I know they’re going to be there in the end.”