No. 20 seed Liberty won a couple of one-run games in single-elimination rounds to survive to the Elite 8 of Division I baseball last Saturday and on Tuesday.
On Thursday its winning margin was wider, but just as harrowing and satisfying. A five-run rally in the sixth inning erased a 1-0 deficit and carried the unheralded Lions to a 5-2 victory over No. 5 Sandra Day O'Connor at Tempe Diablo Stadium.
"Sandra Day O'Connor is an outstanding club with four or five Division I players," Liberty coach Jonn Freitas said. "Our pitchers did a good job holding their bats in check. We got a rally going and put up that five spot."
Through five innings SDO lefty Corey Wilson had a one-hitter and faced one batter over the minimum. But Wilson hit two players in the sixth -- one with one out and the next with two out. Shortstop Tyler Wyatt singled in the tying run to finish Wilson. SDO brought on reliever Degan Harte to stifle the rally, but Liberty catcher Tyler Vanderham ripped a two-run double down the left-field line to snap the tie and key the big outburst.
"The hit batters were the catalyst," Freitas said. "It's mistakes the other guy makes and you capitalize on that usually makes the difference."
Also making a difference in the middle of the game and at the end to close this was Liberty junior pitcher Nathan Pauga. Pauga tossed three innings of one-run relief. The run he gave up was unearned in the bottom of the sixth after Liberty had plated five to take the lead. Pauga came on for Hunter Cunningham, who gave up just a bunt single in 3 1/3 innings, but walked four which led to SDO's first run.
Sophomore lefty Vinnie Cafarelli got the final two outs with two on, striking out one and getting the dangerous Cameron Ming on a fly to center to end the game.
Liberty (22-9) advances to Saturday's winner' bracket to face Hamilton, a 2-1 winner over Mesquite, at 6:30 p.m. at Diablo Stadium. SDO (22-8) plays again on Saturday in an elimination game with Mesquite. That game is set for 4 p.m. at Maryvale Baseball Stadium.
HAMILTON 2, MESQUITE 1: Justin Wylie's RBI double with two outs in the bottom of fourth inning proved to be the game-winner as the top-seeded Huskies (27-3) edged the Wildcats (19-11) at Diablo Stadium.
Hamilton's Zach Pederson and Mesquite's James Harrington were gritty and pitched the distance with the full confidence of their coaches, Mike Woods and Jeff Holland, respectively. Both hurlers pitched in and out of trouble seemingly the entire game. Mesquite left 12 runners on base and Hamilton left 11. Pederson got out of the final jam of the night in the top of the seventh after allowing a single and walk with one out. Pederson, who kept his record perfect at 11-0, got a long fly out to left from Josh Webster and induced the final out on Carson Burton's foul pop to the catcher.
Pederson scattered eight hits, walked three and fanned two. He escaped bases-loaded jams in the first and second innings and left two on in the third without allowing a run. Pederson gave up the tying run in the fourth. It scored on Jacob Gonzalez's steal of third and subsequent throwing error by catcher Blake King.
Hamilton tallied off Harrington in the second with Jake Boston scoring on a throwing error in the midst of three successive bunts by the Huskies. Harrington worked six innings, allowed five hits, walked three and struck out six.
Wylie had three of Hamilton's five hits. Parker Holland and Cole Valletta had two hits apiece for Mesquite.