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Baseball: Liberty season preview
After weaving through the gauntlet of the KingCo 3A last season, the Liberty baseball team felt let down about the way the year ended.
Liberty's season ended with a 6-3 loss to West Seattle in a winner-to-state game last season. That loss came after the Patriots made a stirring run through the league playoffs, going 3-1 in the state's toughest league tournament.
"That was hard to swallow," said Liberty coach Steve Darnell. "We anticipated going farther and that's carried over for these guys."
Liberty went 13-10 on the season (placing fifth in the KingCo regular season), but lost just three games by more than two runs.
The Patriots' strength this season will be infield. Starting at shortstop, senior Eric Peterson has been on varsity for four years and a captain for two.
"He's arguably one of the best players in the state," Darnell said. "He's going to be the real engine of this team."
Peterson swings from the left side and plays strong defense. Baseball America recently listed him as 12th-best senior player in Washington.
Also in the middle infield is junior Troy Colyer. Colyer is great defensively and will play a big part of getting Liberty's offense going at the top of the order.
"We're really expecting him to do well in that table-setter role," Darnell said.
Junior lefty John McLeod will man first base — he is also Liberty's ace on the mound — and hit in one of the power spots in the batting order.
McLeod totaled an ERA of 1.99 in 24.2 innings last season as a sophomore. Darnell and the rest of the team is hoping for continued success this year.
Rounding out the infield is junior Nick Hart. Hart impressed the team last season with strong defense and all-around play.
"Those four guys are going to be the catalysts for us all year," Darnell said.
For the pitching staff behind McCleod, seniors Keegan Bennett and Andrew Pittman will be important.
Bennett missed last season after a knee injury suffered in the football season. The lefthander looked strong in summer and may be a surprise to Liberty's league opponents.
Pittman tossed 11.2 innings last season. Darnell said he has matured and the team is expecting him to carry a heavier innings load.
Two other possibilities in the rotation are juniors Dan Eck and Connor Sjolander.
Darnell is entering his sixth year coaching for the team, but this will be his first as head coach as he takes over for Scott Colby.
"I feel human," Darnell said. "I feel all of the emotions. I'm nervous, anxious, excited and proud."
The Patriots' biggest loss to graduation was catcher Chandler Tracy. Tracy batted .365 last season, while leading the team in home runs and RBIs.
Liberty has three catchers on the roster to replace Tracy, with senior Derek Buchanan being the only one with varsity experience. Juniors Zane Davies and Cameron Talley are also options.
As far as approach to the game, Darnell will maintain the style that has defined Patriot baseball in recent years.
"We're just going to be Liberty traditional," he said. "We're scrappy. We're going to scratch and claw and stay in it until the other teams says 'uncle.'"
The Patriots have started the season at 4-1 overall and 3-0 in the KingCo.