Olentangy Liberty baseball coach Ty Brenning thought about all the players that have come through the program over its 15 years of existence.
Many of them were lined up along the brick wall down the third base side. Some of them were in his own dugout as assistants.
“We’ve got nine guys on our coaching staff and five of them are alumni,” Brenning said. “You talk about having a system in place.”
And they witnessed something that had never been accomplished before: a regional title.
Jack Metzger went the distance on just 87 pitches to lead Liberty to an 8-1 win over New Albany in the Division I regional final Friday at Dublin Coffman.
“We’ve been knocking on the door of the final four quite a few times in those 15 years,” Brenning said. “We try to stay focused in the process – so we don’t talk about Huntington Park. We don’t talk about the final four. We keep knocking … keep knocking … keep knocking and one day the door’s going to open. It’s not a matter of if – it’s just a matter of when.”
The Patriots did the same thing they’ve done throughout the tournament. They used a solid pitching performance and timely hitting to get the job done.
Metzger allowed one unearned run on four hits, a walk and two hit-batters.
“My curveball was a little bit off – I threw that sparsely today,” he said. “The good thing is that I always have one pitch to go to and that’s my changeup. Throughout the season – I’ve switched curveballs, I’ve gone curveball to changeup, and it’s always nice to have something (to rely on). Today it was the changeup.”
It was the second straight game Patriot pitching has held an opponent to just one run. Mitch Milheim went the distance in Thursday’s win over Lancaster.
Metzger went the front four innings and Milheim followed with the final three in Liberty’s 2-1 district semifinal win over Orange in a game that needed two days to finish because of the weather.
That left the door open for Brennan Rowe to do the job in the district final.
Add to that the outstanding job done by Michael Osmond and Beau Foster among others in the regular season.
“Michael Osmond hasn’t made an appearance (in the postseason) and he’s got an ERA under 2,” Brenning said. “Beau Foster’s got an ERA under 1 and he’s a senior who hasn’t gotten on the mound yet. We feel great about our chances if it’s a three-game series or if it’s a nine-inning game because that kind of pitching depth would pay off in those scenarios.”
So, that had to make Brenning’s decision hard, right?
“Metz has been striking out 1.3 or 1.4 batters per inning,” Brenning said. “He’s a swing and miss guy. He’s got a great mentality, he works quick – he’s quick to the plate. It’s really hard to get good barrels on him.”
He had a plan. Metzger would be first up if needed Thursday. He wasn’t.
Rowe, Osmond and Foster were on deck for Friday if needed. They weren’t.
But, that’s one of those good problems.
“That was our plan,” Brenning said. “It’s a hard decision because you’ve got multiple weapons. Jack stepped up and did good today.”
“I don’t really know – that’s up to our coaches,” Metzger said. “The thing is that we have so much depth at pitching that anyone could have gone out there and done the same thing I did today.”
Metzger’s only rocky inning was the third when Spencer Tammaro worked a bases-loaded walk to tie the game 1-1 after a pair of errors sandwiched around an Alex Arenschield single had loaded the bases. All of it came with two outs.
“I thought he was outstanding today,” Brenning said. “He had one rough inning where he threw 25 pitches. But, after that he was under 15 pitches almost every single inning. He had one four-pitch inning and another that was like seven.”
Metzger recovered to set down the next seven batters.
“I always try to get through the first inning,” Metzger said. “If I can get through that one, then everything just melts away. Then I start getting in a good groove.”
By the time New Albany got its offense going again in the seventh, the game was already well in hand for Liberty.
Craig Lutwen led off the fourth with a walk and scored the go-ahead run on a wild pitch. Metzger pushed the lead to 3-1 on a RBI single.
Corbin Parrish (double) and Lutwen (single) each added RBI hits as Liberty blew it open with a four-run fifth.
Carson Comer had two hits and scored twice and Rowe and Parrish had two hits and a RBI apiece to lead the Patriots (28-4).
Arenschield took the loss for the Eagles ( 20-9). He allowed five runs (four earned) on nine hits and two walks with three strikeouts over 4.1 innings of work.
Liberty faces Medina Highland in the state semifinal at Huntington Park Friday at 10 a.m.
Follow Michael Rich on Twitter @mrichnotwealthy or contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.