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Liberty tops EHS for baseball title

After early exits from this year’s league tournament and last year’s district playoffs, the Liberty baseball team was looking for some postseason gold last week when it faced Emmaus in the District 11 Class 6A title game.

The Hurricanes jumped on the Hornets early to pull ahead 6-0 after two innings while pitcher Hayden O’Neill kept Emmaus from coming back in a 6-1 win that brought Liberty its first district title since 2018.

“After the upset loss in EPCs we had to come out here and show everyone what we’re about,” O’Neill said after throwing 6 2/3 innings and scattering five hits while striking out nine batters and walking just one.

Emmaus, which didn’t have its top two pitchers available due to innings limits and injuries, fell behind 4-0 in the first inning after Braylon Gonzalez and JC Spinosa opened the game with back-to-back line-drive singles. Reece D’Amico was hit by a pitch to load the bases with no outs.

O’Neill and Ayden Zabala drove in runs with sacrifice flies before an error on a routine fly ball could have ended the inning, but instead allowed another run to score. It was the first of four errors the Hornets committed in the title game.

Jacob Scheirer’s RBI single made it 4-0 before the Hornets were able to get out of the top of the first inning.

“Having a 4-0 lead in the first,” said O’Neill, “it allowed me to go on the mound and be able to throw strikes and not have to worry about that much. Having a 4-0 lead allowed me to pitch at ease a little more.

“I knew my defense had my back the whole time. I just went out there and tried to throw strikes and it worked out.”

The Hurricanes added a pair of runs in the second inning on a walk, a D’Amico RBI single and a wild pitch for a 6-0 lead.

“When you start the game down 4-0 before you ever hit,” said Emmaus head coach Jeremy Haas, “you’re trying to climb a mountain against a very good team. Then giving them a zero and letting up another crooked number, when you’re down 6-0 against a really good team it’s going to be tough.”

Emmaus starting pitcher Alex Pion left the game in the second inning. Ryan Latchford and Tyler LePage pitched the next 5 1/3 innings and kept the Hurricanes from doing any more damage. But O’Neill and Liberty’s error-free defensive effort kept the Hornets from mounting a rally.

“I threw a lot of fastballs mostly,” said O’Neill. “That’s always my best pitch. Curveball was OK today. My change-up really worked, so that was nice. I had a good feel for all of them. Definitely my fastball is always my best pitch. I threw it the most and it worked.”

Emmaus finally broke through with two outs in the seventh inning when Colin Foley scored on Joe Cook’s triple. O’Neill reached his pitch limit on the Cook triple. Noah Gyauch-Quirk came in to get the last out.

“We knew we had to Johnny Wholestaff it,” said Haas of not having either of his top two starters (Luke Deschenes and Foley) available to start. “We felt good with the guys we had going. We had a good game plan. We felt like if we executed it would be a good day.

“You can’t make four errors against a good team and win. We didn’t help ourselves, costly errors, untimely hitting. Credit to them. They did what they needed to win.”

Three Hurricane batters had two hits each in the game, including Gonzalez (2-for-4, run), D’Amico (2-for-3, 2 runs, RBI) and Rivera (2-for-3).

The Hornets’ five hits were scattered among five players (LePage, Dominick Chiego, Anthony Viola, Foley and Cook).

Both teams advanced to the state playoffs, which began Monday. Emmaus took on District 1 champion Owen J. Roberts, while the Hurricanes faced District 3’s second place team, Manhein Township.

“Our season goes on,” Haas said last week. “We’ll do an off day tomorrow. We’ll come back Friday. We’ll probably have a fun practice. Get after it on Saturday and Sunday and get ready for a really good team on Monday.

“District One champ. That’s a great opportunity for us. We’ll hopefully get a little healthy and we’ll be ready to go. Not every team gets to the state tournament so we’re going to go there and we’re going to compete.”

The Hornets took advantage of that opportunity by beating the top team from one of the state’s most competitive districts, 1-0 Monday behind a strong outing from Deschenes and a big hit from LePage.

The Hornets only run in the state playoff win came on LePage’s solo home run in the fourth inning.

Deschenes went the distance against Owen J. Roberts, throwing seven innings while allowing seven hits and striking out nine batters while walking just one. The Hornets played error-free defense behind their ace.

Emmaus advances to the state quarterfinals to take on either District 2 champ Hazleton or District 1 third-place team Coatesville. The Hornets lost to Hazleton 9-0 in a nonleague game on April 24. They did not face Coatesville this season.

PRESS PHOTO BY NANCY SCHOLZ Dominick Chiego takes a swing during the District 11 baseball championship game.
PRESS PHOTO BY NANCY SCHOLZ Tyler LePage (left) and Luke Deschenes (right) played key roles in the Hornets' win over Owen J. Roberts Monday. LePage's homer was the game's only run and Deschenes pitched a complete-game shutout.