Prep Baseball Report

Liberty Christian Survives Rally to Capture 4A West Title

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By John Nolan
Assistant Director of Scouting/Content Management 

Nokesville-A perfect Tuesday evening saw No. 2 Liberty Christian Academy travel north to take on No. 9 Kettle Run in the 4A West Region championship. LCA had made the trip on Friday, only to be rained out by a thunderstorm less than an hour before first pitch. Another attempt to play on Monday was cancelled early in the day. With the State Tournament starting on Friday, the game needed to be played, and neither team could afford an extended outing that would impact a pitchers’ availability this weekend. With that in mind, Liberty Christian started senior Zach Fuqua and Kettle Run started junior Will Merriken.

If you blinked, you would have missed the first inning. Merriken set the Bulldogs down in order with three deep flyouts early in the count. Fuqua also worked quickly, getting a strikeout in between two lineouts in his perfect first. For velocities and scouting information on all pitchers in the game, check the Virginia/DC Scout Blog later this week.

In the top of the second, Bulldog junior first baseman Pearce Howard got the bats rolling with a sharp single to right. After a pop out for the first out, junior third baseman Hunter Johnson ripped a double to right center, and Howard was able to chug all of the way in from first to open the scoring, with Johnson taking third on the throw. Sophomore left fielder Kyle Horton flared a single into right, driving in Johnson and making the score 2-0. Horton would advance into scoring position with two outs, and junior first baseman Austin Roach singled to left, driving him in to give LCA a 3-0 lead in the middle of the first.

Fuqua cruised through the second and the third, retiring the first nine batters to open the game. In the top of the third, Kettle Run went to the pen for junior submariner Brennen Harris. Harris made quick work of the middle of the Liberty Christian lineup and the game moved to the fourth inning with the score still 3-0.

Harris worked around a single and a walk in the top of the fourth to put up his second scoreless inning. Fuqua ran his streak to eleven batters retired to open the game before senior centerfielder Brenton Doyle (VMI) broke up the no-hit bid with a single to center. Junior first baseman Sam Ewald drew a walk and a balk put both runners into scoring position. Junior third baseman Noah Goins singled to short, driving in Doyle and getting Kettle Run on the board. Merriken, still in the game as a hitter, rolled his own single through the middle, cutting the lead to 3-2 and ending Fuqua’s night. Howard came in and got a ground out to end the fourth with Liberty Christian’s lead trimmed to 3-2.

In the top of the fifth, Hayden Lilek came into the game from second base to pitch for the Cougars. He got off to an ominous start, allowing a single to centerfielder Richard De la Cruz, a walk to catcher Wes Clarke, and a perfect sacrifice bunt by Howard that ended up going for a single to load the bases with no outs. Lilek was able to bear down and get a strikeout, infield fly, and a third strikeout to strand all three runners and keep the deficit at one.

In the bottom of the fifth, catcher Austin Fisher led off with a single, and his courtesy runner, Sam Torpy, made it down to second on a wild pitch with one out. Hayden Lilek came up and delivered a single down the third base line. The throw from Horton was in time but Clarke could not keep a handle on it as Torpy slid in with tying run. Howard was able to shut the threat down there, and through five innings, the game was tied at three.

LCA got something going in the sixth as Noah Cook (VMI) and Garret Price (Liberty) singled to put two on with one out for the heart of the Bulldog order. De la Cruz was up next and smashed a ball towards short that was caught for a line-drive double play. Howard answered with a perfect bottom of the sixth and the game was headed to the seventh tied.

Lilek struck out Clarke to open the top of the seventh, but then Howard picked up his third hit of the day when he hammered a double into the rightfield corner. A lineout to center and an intentional walk to Hunter Johnson brought Kyle Horton back up with two outs and the game tied. Horton came through with a single to right-center, driving in Howard’s pinch runner and giving LCA the lead back.

In the bottom of the seventh, Garret Price came in from shortstop to close out the game and he was welcomed quickly when junior Tyler Shaffer singled up the middle. That brought up Fisher to attempt the sacrifice. Fisher put a good bunt down, but Price hustled off the mound and fired towards second. New shortstop Cook was there and relayed the throw to first, and what had looked like a perfect sacrifice ended up a double play. Price got a strikeout to end the game and Liberty Christian celebrated as the 4A West Region champions in the Bulldogs’ first year of VHSL competition.

For Kettle Run, Merriken went 2 IP, 3 R, 4 H, 1 K while also going 1-3 with an RBI at the plate. Harris added 2 IP, 0 R, 1 H, 1 BB, 2 K. Lilek took the loss, going 3 IP, 1 R, 6 H, 1 IBB, 1 HBP, 4 K while also going 1-3 with an RBI at the plate. Doyle was 1-3 with a run. Goins was 1-3 with an RBI. Shaffer was 1-3, and Fisher was 1-3 with a run. The Cougars will play 4A East Region champ No. 2 Hanover on Friday in the State Semifinals at Liberty University. It is the third game of the day with first pitch scheduled for 3 pm.

For Liberty Christian, Fuqua went 3 2/3 IP, 2 R, 3 H, 1 BB, 2 K. Howard earned the win, going 2 1/3 IP, 1 R, 2 H, 0 BB, 3 K, while also having a big day at the plate, going 3-4 with a 2B and 2 runs. Price earned the save, going 1 IP, 0 R, 1 H, 1 K while also having a 1-4 day at the plate. Hunter Johnson was 1-2 with a 2B, 2 BB, and a run. Horton went 2-4 with a run and 2 RBIs. Cook was 2-4 and Roach was 1-3 with an RBI. The Bulldogs will play Jamestown in the other 4A State Semifinal on Friday, with first pitch scheduled for 6 pm.


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