The Olentangy Liberty baseball team is well-versed in how to do a proper dog-pile. The Patriots have had plenty of practice.
And, just in case it hasn’t been perfected, Mitchell Okuley gave them another opportunity to hone their skills.
He sent a towering drive to right on the first pitch that somehow made it over the fence to give Liberty a 3-2 win over Lancaster in a Division I regional semifinal Thursday at Dublin Coffman.
Lancaster right fielder Casey Finck came within inches of making the catch. The ball hit his glove as his body hit the wall causing the ball to bounce out and hit the top of the wall before going over.
“I was just looking for a fastball to hit and I swung and hit it where I wanted to,” Okuley said. “I didn’t really know (if it was gone) – I just made sure to run hard just in case. (Finck) got unlucky running into the fence. He almost made the play. I just got lucky.”
Liberty assistant coach Zach Michael commented that it was a fitting ending to the game. Okuley had several deep drives this season knocked down at the warning track.
“I don’t know what you call the weather pattern we’ve had in March and April – but if it’s just normal weather – he’s probably got six home runs and that’s his first,” Liberty coach Ty Brenning said. “He’s a kid that’s not going to get cheated. We felt good with him coming to the plate – even with a lefty-lefty matchup. You know you’re going to get his best when it’s Mitchell Okuley.”
It was so close for the Golden Gales, who rallied to tie the game on a Max Hamilton single in the top half of the inning.
It was just the second hit of the game for Lancaster. Tyler Monk provided the other one — also an RBI single — which gave the Gales a 1-0 lead in the second.
The Gales had the bases loaded with two outs in the seventh. But, Liberty pitcher Mitch Milheim got out of it with a popout to short.
Liberty is accustomed to one-run games in the tournament – beating rival Olentangy Orange 2-1 in the district semifinal and Marysville 5-4 for a district title.
“You’re going to be in dog fights in every round,” Brenning said. “Everybody in Central Ohio is going to give you their best shot. This is pretty much what you come to get used to if you get this far in the tournament.”
It’s a far cry from the regular season as the Patriots were involved in just two one-run games – both against league-mate Westerville South. They won one and lost the other.
Brenning believes last season prepared Liberty for this season with seven of its 13 losses by two runs or less.
“So many of these kids are returning off a team that faced a lot of adversity last year,” he said. “In a lot of ways – those who suffer, remember. And I think our guys remember enough of those tight games in the last 12 months.”
Milheim hit a one-out single in the third and came around to score on a Brennan Rowe sacrifice fly to tie the game 1-1.
Corey Mayer worked a walk to lead off the fourth and scored on Justin Nelson’s squeeze bunt to give the Patriots a 2-1 lead.
Okuley, Rowe and Milheim had two hits apiece to lead the Patriots (27-4).
Milheim, who went the distance for the win, was a little wild. He issued four walks and hit three batters in the game. But, Lancaster had only one runner in scoring position between the third and sixth innings.
Garrett Davis went the front six for the Gales, allowing two runs (both earned) on eight hits and three walks. Anthony Selhorst relieved Davis in the seventh and took the loss for the Gales (20-10).
Next up, Liberty and New Albany play for the regional title today at 5 p.m. at Coffman.
Follow Michael Rich on Twitter @mrichnotwealthy or contact him at [email protected]