GALT — Josh Seiler got the job done at home plate.
Kenny Morgan went the distance on the mound.
Along with the rest of the seventh-seeded Liberty Ranch High baseball team, they made history with a 3-2 win over No. 10 West Campus in the first round of the Sac-Joaquin Section Division IV playoffs at Galt Community Park on Tuesday. It was Liberty Ranch’s first playoff victory since the school fielded its first varsity baseball team in 2011.
“It feels good for the players to get the monkey off their back,” said Liberty Ranch coach Wade Isbell, who has guided the Hawks to the playoffs the last four seasons. “We’ve been close in every single playoff game. Our guys finally decided to break through this year.”
Now Liberty Ranch (18-9), winner of the Sierra Valley Conference title, advances to the second round of the playoffs, playing at No. 2 seed Casa Roble of Orangevale on Thursday.
Because of rain projected to hit the region tonight and Thursday, Will DeBoard, assistant commissioner of the Sac-Joaquin Section, sent an email out to media on Tuesday advising that there could be “many changes” to the schedule of upcoming baseball and softball playoff games this week. For updates each day, visit cifsjs.org.
West Campus (16-2), winners of the Greater Sacramento League title, went down 1-2-3 in the top of the seventh. Then the Hawks got things rolling when winning pitcher Kenny Morgan walked and Jayden Baroni replaced him as pinch-runner. Michael Ramirez moved Baroni to second base when Ramirez was hit by a pitch.
Then Seiler, a sophomore second baseman who had flown out twice and hit into a grounder in his first three at-bats, lined a 2-0 count into left field for a single, which drove in Baroni. That set off a celebration by Hawk players, Isbell and his assistant coaches at home plate.
“A fastball, low and inside,” said Seiler of the pitch he hit. “It was at the right rotation. I swung and got a good piece of it.”
The game was still 2-2 in the bottom of the seventh, and Liberty Ranch looked like it won the game by the same score with two outs. The bases were loaded when Shane Popoff was hit by a pitch. That drove in pinch-runner Ty Popoff from third base, and the Hawk players and coaches celebrated what they thought was the end of the game.
As Liberty Ranch and West Campus players and coaches lined up to shake hands, the home plate and base umpires met in front of the pitcher’s mound, refusing to call the game over. They ruled that Jaime Gonzalez, who walked and was on first base prior, left too soon and was called for the third out.
“It was the right call,” said Isbell of the umpires’ decision. “I’m trying to holler at my guys to advance to get to the next base. He (Gonzalez) started to and stop. It was the right call by the umpires, as frustrating as it can be. In a sense, we won the game there but we walked off the bases too early.”
West Campus tied the game in the top of the seventh on a Hawk throwing error and double from Mateo Camona.
Liberty Ranch scored its two runs in the bottom of the third inning. Tomas Avila walked and scored on Shane Popoff’s single down the third base line. Popoff scored Louis Manning’s single to right field.
The Warriors scored their first run in the top of the first on Calvin Budge’s double, and scored when Alejandro Fisher got on base on another Liberty Ranch error. The Hawks had two errors in the game.
On the mound, Morgan went the distance for the Hawks. He struck out 10 Warrior batters that included five in the first three innings and tossed a four-hitter.
“I felt good,” Morgan said. “Everything was working good for me.”
After the Hawks’ win over the Warriors, Isbell was held to a promise he made to his players — he would shave off his mustache. Two weeks ago, after Liberty Ranch beat Union Mine to win the SVC title, Isbell allowed his players to shave his head. Stubbles on the top of his head were visible Tuesday afternoon.
Since Isbell took over the baseball program in 2016, Liberty Ranch have a combined record of 64-37-1 and has won three of the last four SVC titles. From 2011 until 2015, the Hawks went through three different coaches and endured five consecutive losing seasons.
Contact Mike Bush at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on Twitter: @MBushLodiSports.