Junior Justin Nelson and sophomore Brennan Rowe combined to drive in nine runs to lead the Olentangy Liberty baseball team to a convincing 14-2 win in five innings at Westerville North Monday.
Liberty clinches at least a share of the OCC-Buckeye championship with the win and can win it outright with a win over Westerville Central at home Wednesday or at Olentangy Friday. An Olentangy loss would also do the trick.
“It means a lot for how much work we’ve put in,” Nelson said. “Everyone on this team is working day-in and day-out to make each other better. It means a lot for us to go out there and win the OCC title and show that we’re the best in the league.”
It’s the seventh title in school history for the Patriots (21-3, 12-1) and the fourth in the last five seasons.
“Our guys have really played good baseball for more than a year,” Liberty coach Ty Brenning said. “This year’s success has really been two years in the making. We were super-competitive last year – we just couldn’t get the timely hit. This group is, for the most part, back from last year.”
Nelson homered and doubled twice, drove in four runs and scored twice in his three plate appearances only to be topped by (in run-production) Rowe, who hit a grand slam and RBI double. He also walked and scored two runs.
Nelson hit a two-run homer in the second before adding RBI doubles in the third and fourth innings.
“I went down in the count (1-2) when I hit it out,” Nelson said of his homer. “We’ve been working on our two-strike approach, just looking at off-speed, and I think that really helped me because he had a slow curveball.
“Seeing that right out of his hand and seeing him grip it behind his back told me a curveball was coming. It was low and in – just my pitch – and I just took it out.”
Rowe drove in Liberty’s second run on a double in the first before crushing a grand slam over the wall in center in the fourth. He added a single in the fifth to complete his perfect day at the plate.
“I got a good piece of barrel on it,” he said. “I felt like it had a chance (off the bat) … it was a low line-drive. Off the bat – I was out of the box. I was trying to get two and it went out.”
Rowe also pitched a couple of innings in relief of Mitch Milheim, who allowed two hits, a walk and a hit-batter and struck out five over three scoreless innings to pick up the win.
Liberty’s thrived in a trying season weather-wise.
“We’ve attended the University of Adversity and we’re better for it,” Brenning said. “Whether it’s the weather this year or injuries last year or just being able to play from behind – this team has seen it all. I’m just real proud of their commitment level. They’ve always been able to attack difficult.”
Nelson attributed the solid season to his team’s work ethic.
“Everyone comes every day to the locker room ready to play as hard as we can whether we have a game or not,” Nelson said. “If we don’t play today – we’re going to (work anyway). With everyone having that mentality – it means that we’re going to succeed no matter what the weather is like.”
Corey Mayer and Mitchell Okuley each scored twice to go with a hit, a walk and a RBI for the Patriots.
Auri Dover had two hits and Chad Gordish and Mason Lowder each had RBI hits to lead North (6-16, 2-10). Andrew Miller took the loss, allowing seven runs over 2.1 innings.