As if there needed to be any extra motivation for Saturday’s battle of Bethlehem, the Freedom and Liberty baseball teams entered the contest as two of the top teams in the area with just three losses between them.
But in a game that had a playoff-like intensity, it didn’t last as long as perhaps either team expected.
The Hurricanes rallied for a pair of five-run innings, turned in some defensive gems along the way and Alex Super took care of the rest on the mound in a 10-0, five-inning win over the Patriots at a wet William Sheridan Field.
“I’m proud of all the kids,” Liberty coach Andy Pitsilos said. “They stepped it up. It was a huge game, 8-1 (Freedom) and 8-2 (Liberty). My kids came to play today and they did very well.”
Now 9-2 on the season, the Hurricanes came into Saturday on the heels of a tough loss Thursday when they were walked off on by Pocono Mountain East. They quickly put that game out of their mind with the rivalry on deck.
Liberty got on the board first in the bottom of the second inning on a controversial play at the plate. With two outs and runners on first and second, Gabe Albino cracked a single to center field. Freedom (8-2) center fielder Alec Huertas came up firing with a strike to the plate, where catcher Teddy Liadis was waiting.
Liadis was unable to corral the throw, though, as Jake Unangst collided with him and the ball went to the backstop. Patriots coach Nick D’Amico heatedly argued the call, to no avail.
“(The umpire) told me (Unangst) didn’t lower his shoulder. He said (Unangst) was diving into home plate,” D’Amico said. “That’s his call, obviously. It was a big call at that moment and it led to a lot of runs. But he saw it one way and I can’t complain about it. We did a lot of other things wrong that contributed to that big inning.”
Leadoff man Kyle Hlavaty (2-for-3, two runs, two RBI) followed with an RBI infield single and then Jared Burcin belted a two-run double to right field to put his team ahead 4-0.
“It felt great,” said Burcin, a senior catcher. “We played a great game against a great team. We had great pitching. Stuff happened to go our way. We hit the ball well and the breaks came for us, so hey, why not?”
Sammy Kraihanzel finished off the scoring in the second with an RBI single to left field, but the Hurricanes were only getting started.
After Super tossed a shutdown 1-2-3 inning that took just nine pitches in the top of the third, Liberty got cooking again on offense.
Unangst (2-for-3, two runs) led off the bottom of the frame with a single, Jake Morgan walked and Jake Wagner hit a sacrifice fly for the 6-0 lead. Albino and Hlavaty came up next with back-to-back bunt singles and both later scored when Burcin crushed another two-run double to the gap, stretching the lead to 9-0.
“I don’t know what to say about Burcin,” Pitsilos said. “Every game, it’s unbelievable. He does a heck of a job behind the plate and hits the heck out of the ball. He’s got a very beautiful swing and he’s a very heady kid.”
Elias Gross capped off the rally with another sacrifice fly, making sure the game could end after five innings with the 10-0 margin.
Super finished with five strikeouts while scattering three hits and one walk over five innings.
“Supe’s been throwing the ball well all year,” Pitsilos said. “He’s very consistent. He throws strikes with three pitches and he keeps everybody off balance. He did a hell of a job today.”
The Hurricanes, who entered Saturday as the No. 2 team in the lehighvalleylive rankings, handed the No. 1 Patriots their second loss in three games.
“Obviously we try not to look at the rankings, but some people do,” Burcin said. “This one just had a lot of extra motivation.”
Freedom couldn’t catch a break all day. As it looked to spark a rally in the fifth inning, Thomas Bonilla led off with a fly ball to the gap that looked like extra bases before Unangst got on his horse from right field and made a stellar diving snag for the out.
“Unangst is outside his mind, I don’t know what else to say,” Pitsilos said. “Think about where he caught the ball, it’s unbelievable. He’s just a great kid, hustling, and playing really well right now.”
It was that kind of day for the Patriots. Another potential hit was taken away in the third inning when Gross made a barehanded scoop on a dribbler to shortstop and fired to first for the out.
“They had that play in right, they had their shortstop make a heck of a play,” D’Amico said. “That’s a good team over there. Give credit to Liberty. They took advantage of things.”
Greg Joyce may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @GJoyce9. Find Lehigh Valley high school sports on Facebook.
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