Momentum was against Liberty pitcher Dan Skelly as he took the mound in the second inning of Saturday’s Sunrise Region championship baseball game at Green Valley.
The Patriots had dropped the day’s early game, and Skelly had spotted the Gators to a 2-0 lead in the first inning of the nightcap.
But the senior starter recovered in convincing fashion, pitching 6 2/3 innings to lead his team to a 6-4 victory over Green Valley for the championship.
The win lifted the Patriots into the state tournament, which begins on Thursday in Reno.
Skelly said he never doubted the positive outcome.
“I just wanted to get the call,” said Skelly, who struck out six while allowing four walks. “The coaching staff had faith in me, and I knew I had a great defense behind me.”
But Green Valley, which needed to win twice to claim the title, stormed to a 2-0 first-inning lead on an RBI fielder’s choice off the bat of Keola Paragas and a run-scoring single by Keaton Smith.
Skelly said he never worried about his rocky start.
“They just hit some good pitches,” Skelly said. “But when you have that many guys pulling on the end of the rope, nobody’s going to beat you.”
Liberty coach Nick Didier shared that confidence.
“I think Dan just needed to settle down a bit,” Didier said. “But he’s our guy, and he’s a great competitor. I’m glad he’s on my team.”
The Patriots got a run back in the second inning, and took the lead for good in the third when Jay Martz scored on a wild pitch and Ethan Ibarra followed with an RBI double to make it 3-2.
Jesse Keiser’s solo homer in the fourth gave Liberty a 4-2 lead before the Gators answered by scoring on a balk in the bottom of the inning.
The Patriots sealed it with a run on an RBI fielder’s choice and another on a Green Valley throwing error in the seventh.
“Those insurance runs are always nice,” Didier said. “But the important thing is that it was a total group effort.”
Skelly couldn’t quite close the deal, as he got into trouble in the bottom of the seventh and was relieved by Justin Lutes. Jarrett Perns’ two-out bounce single up the middle made it 6-4 before Lutes got the final out to earn the save.
“I told our seniors before the game that we would go as far as they would take us,” Didier said. “Lo and behold, we’re going to state.”
Martz went 3-for-3 to lead the Liberty offense, and Keiser went 3-for-4.
Anthony Hatch went 2-for-3 to lead Green Valley.
The Gators forced a second game by defeating Liberty 5-1 in the day’s early contest.
Tommy Brown went 3-for-3, and Troy Cropper, Keaton Smith and Perns added two hits apiece in that game. Ryan Jackson earned the win.
Preston Pavlica went 2-for-3 to lead Liberty.