By Eric Cline firstname.lastname@example.org
April 6, 2014
COLUMBUS — Offense, defense and pitching. Do all three well and you usually win.
The Liberty Patriots had their defensive troubles, which hurt them in the late innings, but had plenty of the other two and finished with a nine-inning, 5-4 victory over the Olentangy Braves Friday night at Nick Swisher Field at Bill Davis Stadium on the campus of The Ohio State University.
Liberty (5-0) dominated the first six innings with timely offense and dominating pitching from senior Jacob Niggemeyer, who struck out 15 Olentangy (1-2) batters in his 6 1/3 innings, but the Braves used a late rally and a perfect suicide squeeze in the seventh to get back into the game.
“We got great pitching performances from both Jake and (senior) Nick (Newton); they did and excellent job,” Liberty coach Ty Brenning said. “They missed a lot of bats. There weren’t a whole lot of balls put in play and I thought (senior) Matt Matthaes did a great job behind the plate.”
“We struggled hitting and struggled making adjustments,” Olentangy coach Ryan Lucas said. “We didn’t try to go back side, we didn’t try to shorten up and I questioned our toughness the first couple weeks of the season, but I felt we showed some tonight, and I’m happy because we need that toughness to win a league championship, and I thought this game prepared us well.”
Both teams failed to score in the first two innings, but Liberty broke through in the third when senior Marcus Wechselberger tripled to the gap in right center and scored on a wild pitch. Senior Danny Kirchner then tripled to the left center gap, and with two out, Niggemeyer hit a hard ground ball past second base that went to the wall in right center for an RBI triple.
Junior Nick Parr led off the fourth with a single to left on the first pitch, and junior pinch runner Nate Meeker stole second, spelling the end of Olentangy sophomore starter Collin Hoffman’s night. Junior Charlie Lutwen sacrificed Meeker to third, and Matthaes hit the first pitch he saw through the left side of the infield for an RBI single. After a wild pitch sent Matthaes to second, sophomore Jordan Seich came in to pinch run. Junior Justice Griebel drew a walk, and Wechselberger singled through the left side to score Seich.
Niggemeyer continued to shut down the Braves, retiring 13 batters in a row between the second and sixth innings, including nine on strikeouts, but Olentangy reliever Donal Baker was just as tough, allowing just one run through his first four innings of relief, helping to keep the Braves within striking distance.
In the last of the seventh, Braves sophomore Christian McFarland smacked a lead-off triple to the wall. Senior Tim Feasel struck out, but the wild pitch ball got away from the catcher, allowing McFarland to score and Feasel to take first base.
Junior Connor Brett then roped a triple into the gap in left center, sending Feasel home, and with one out, junior Joe McGuinness hit an easy fly ball to right, but the wind blew the ball behind and off the glove of the Liberty right fielder, allowing Brett to score and McGuinness to take third on the error.
Newton relieved Niggemeyer after that, but the Braves tied the game at four when senior Austin Moore dropped his perfect squeeze bunt down the third base line, scoring McGuinness and sending the game to extra innings.
Both teams had their chances in the eighth, but in the Liberty ninth, junior Cameron Comer walked, then beat a throw to second on a force attempt off a Niggemeyer grounder at second base. Comer was retired at third on a sacrifice attempt by senior Mitchell Griffiths and Parr grounded into a fielder’s choice that retired Griffiths at second, putting runners at first and third with two out.
Lutwen took a first-pitch ball, but between pitches, Parr took off for second base and Niggemeyer broke for home. Olentangy junior reliever Luke Porter turned to throw to second, not realizing both runners had taken off, and Niggemeyer scored on the double steal.
“That’s something we’ve been working on for a week or two,” Brenning said. “We’d run the same play on our trip to South Carolina. Our kids were in tune and expecting it, but we were also in a situation where we wanted to make something happen instead of letting something happen.”
“Give Ty a lot of credit there,” Lucas said. “That’s a gutsy call at the end because if it doesn’t work, he doesn’t look too good. That was a great call on his part.”
The Braves had a chance to tie or win in the bottom of the ninth, as McGuinness and Moore hit back-to-back one-out singles, but Newton struck out the final two batters to end the game.
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