Photo by Mike Maltais: Junior right fielder Chase Kurtz hit a grounder to the third baseman and beat the throw to first base during the sixth inning of Liberty Bell’s 3-2 win over Riverside Christian.
BY MIKE MALTAIS
The Riverside Christian Crusaders met their match and the Liberty Bell Mountain Lions their destiny on the baseball diamond at Wenatchee Valley College last Thursday (May 9), when Liberty Bell engineered a stunning 3-2 upset against an over-confident Riverside Christian to claim the district championship and advance to the regional playoffs in Spokane next weekend.
In a dramatic final-inning finish that would headline any sports highlight reel, coaches Don Calvert and Ralph Abate pulled a show-stopper from their playbook and signaled for a “suicide squeeze” that brought the winning run across the plate in the bottom of the seventh.
“The suicide squeeze is the most exciting play in baseball,” coach Calvert said flatly. “Much more exciting than a home run.”
The game changer began to take shape when sophomore shortstop Chip Jones hit a leadoff grounder to third base and beat the throw to get safely on at first. Jones promptly stole second. Andrew Ryan then smacked a hard fly ball right to the waiting Riverside Christian center fielder for Liberty Bell’s first out. With junior catcher Milo Holston at the plate, Jones beat another throw from Riverside Christian’s catcher to steal third. The scoring run, now poised at third, set the stage for the nail biting squeeze play.
The coaches delivered the “bunt’ signal to Holston.
On the next pitch Jones was already halfway to home plate before the ball reached the batter’s box.
Holston laid down a bunt in the direction of the pitcher.
At this point the Crusaders had only one option: With the game tied, 2-2, no innings remaining and only one Liberty Bell out, Riverside Christian had to tag Jones at home plate or lose the game.
Riverside Christian’s pitcher “had such a high kick on his delivery that it interfered with his ability to get to the ball quickly,” observed coach Calvert.
Jones slid safely home amid the dust and disorder and the Mountain Lions were the new 2B district 5/6 champions.
The LBHS ball club arrived at the district dance with a fire in the belly while the Crusaders were already looking beyond their upstart opponent toward the next level of play, regionals at Spokane the following weekend. The week previous, Riverside Christian made short work of White Swan, 14-2, and had a similar fate in mind for Liberty Bell. The Mountain Lions, however, also handily dispatched their playoff opponent, Kittitas, in a 6-0 shutout the week before.
The give-and-take battle pitted two of the district’s finest throwing arms – LBHS senior Ryan and Riverside Christian senior John Haas – against a lineup of batters from both dugouts who had earned the right to be taken seriously.
Two of those were Liberty Bell eighth-graders, third baseman Cole Darwood and left fielder Derek Alumbaugh. Both were hitless against Kittitas but would bounce back to play pivotal roles against the Crusaders.
The Mountain Lions wasted little time setting the tempo in the first inning. A walk by Morgan Palm and double by Chip Jones put Liberty Bell runners on second and third base and the Riverside Christian hurler in a bind.
After conferring with his catcher, Haas coolly flipped the ball into his glove as he walked back to the mound, turned, and proceeded to fan the next three batters.
In the bottom of the second inning Alumbaugh singled and Darwood slammed a triple down the left field line to score his teammate as a stunned Riverside Christian dugout watched the game tip 1-0 in favor of the Lions.
After a scoreless third inning that again saw Liberty Bell players left on base, the Crusaders finally tied the game in the fourth off a single and an error that allowed a Riverside Christian runner to score. Thanks to a single by Riley Calvert, a double by Alumbaugh and a walk by Darwood, the Mountain Lions – with the bases loaded and no outs – were once more knocking on the Crusaders’ door, but Haas again pitched his team out of trouble.
The fifth inning was scoreless. In the top of the sixth the Crusaders hit into the first of two Liberty Bell double plays.
In the bottom of the sixth, Chase Kurtz singled, Calvert sent him to second on a sacrifice bunt and Alumbaugh singled to the shortstop, who fielded the ball and blocked Kurtz, running toward third. The forward momentum of the shortstop, combined with Kurtz’s maneuverability gained as a varsity football receiver, allowed the Mountain Lion to slip past the outstretched tagging arm and arrive safely at third. The fortuitous flub by the Crusader would prove crucial as Kurtz then scored on a sacrifice single by Darwood who hit his second RBI of the game.
“I think the coach was a little surprised,” Darwood said later of his three-for-four hitting. “A week earlier against Kittitas I struck out three times in three at bats.”
In the top of the seventh inning with Liberty Bell leading 2-1, Riverside Christian faced the unthinkable. The team they had taken for granted was on the verge of victory if the Crusaders could not score a tying run in their final trip to the plate.
Two singles and an error later Riverside Christian had its run before hitting into Liberty Bell’s second double play of the game.
With the game knotted 2-2 the ecstatic Crusaders had their tie and the likely momentum if the game went into extra innings.
But then Jones singled to first, stole two bases and waited at third for the squeeze.
Asked later what went through his mind when he got the signal to bunt, Holston said simply “I didn’t think about it. I just did it.”
Emotions ran high after the game, particularly for Ryan, whose pitching performance kept the Crusaders from a breakout rally.
“Andrew held Riverside Christian to six hits, struck out eight, allowed only two stolen bases and no earned runs,” the coach said. “At the plate he hit three long fly balls but they were all right at people.”
“This is the happiest I’ve ever been in my life,” Palm said in the game’s afterglow.
“It was the best high school game I ever saw,” coach Calvert said, putting it all into perspective as a baseball coach.
“I received a classy letter from Riverside’s athletic director, Rick Van Beek,” Calvert added. “It said, ‘ Congrats my friend. You kicked our butts. Well prepared. Well executed. Pitcher was outstanding.’”
Liberty Bell will travel to Spokane’s Avista Stadium for the first game of the regional round at 10 a.m. Saturday (May 18). “It’s a loser-out elimination, so if we survive the first game we’ll play later that day at 3 p.m.,” Calvert said.
Nine Mountain Lions make All-League baseball team
BY MIKE MALTAIS
The Liberty Bell High School varsity boys’ baseball team added more accolades to its title as the Central Washington B League District 5/6 Champions. Last Monday (May 13) the league baseball coaches met in Pateros to select this year’s roster of All-League nominees. In all, nine Mountain Lions were acknowledged with All-League honors. They include:
• Pitcher Andrew Ryan, Most Valuable Player.
• Milo Holston, Catcher of the Year.
All-League First Team:
• Junior right fielder Chase Kurtz.
• Junior first baseman David Dinsmore III.
• Junior center fielder Morgan Palm.
• Eighth-grade left fielder Derek Alumbaugh.
While he extended credit to all his players, coach Don Calvert pointed out that the occasion of an eighth-grade player being named to an All-League First Team is “very unusual.”
All-League Second Team nominees include sophomore second baseman Riley Calvert and sophomore shortstop Chip Jones. Joining the only other eighth grader on the All-League team was eighth-grade third baseman Cole Darwood, who received Honorable Mention.