By Michael Rich
Most kids dream about a game-winning hit, and Corbin Rapier’s came true with a two-out RBI single in the bottom of the ninth inning that sent the Olentangy Liberty baseball team to a 2-1 victory over visiting Thomas Worthington Monday in Powell.
“You can’t treat it like it’s two outs and bottom of the ninth, you gotta treat it like any ordinary at-bat,” Rapier said. “The coach has always told us to do what we do, so I just did what I had to do, and luckily I came through.”
The Patriots (20-3, 12-1), who have won 13 straight games overall and 17 of 18, clinched the OCC-Central title outright with the win — their third consecutive league title.
“It’s an awesome feeling knowing that we worked so hard in the offseason and throughout the whole year … it’s an awesome feeling to three-peat,” senior catcher Spencer Yankle said.
Liberty had scoring chances in the first, fifth, sixth, seventh and eighth — leaving runners in scoring position each time before Rapier came through with the big hit in the ninth.
“It’s one of those things where we weren’t throwing at-bats away in those situations,” Liberty coach Ty Brenning said. “I didn’t think our kids shied away from the moment. We had good approaches, not great results. I was never really frustrated with our approaches.”
Jordan Seich worked a one-out walk in the fifth inning and Chase Gresock, who led Liberty with three hits, reached on an error.
Seich came around to score on two balk calls on back-to-back pitches to tie the score 1-1.
“Our run game is such that it puts pressure on a lot of people and it’s something that, when you play us, you got to prepare for and it gets guys out of rhythm,” Brenning said. “I think it’s harder for the pitcher to manage the run game, hold the runners and make quality pitches.”
Joey Pischel led off the Thomas third inning with a base hit, advanced to second on a sacrifice bunt and scored on Trent Castle’s groundball single to left to give Thomas a 1-0 lead.
Pischel and Castle each had two hits on the game to lead the Cardinals.
Liberty starter Mason Groves danced in and out of trouble all evening.
“He had guys on base in five of the seven innings he worked and was able to work his way through it and get out of it … it’s just a senior being a senior, in my opinion,” Brenning said.
Thomas had scoring chances in the first, second and fifth, but Groves worked around it unscathed. He struck out eight batters over seven innings and allowed five hits and a walk.
“He just battled — he had good stuff,” Yankle said. “He always wants the ball in big situations. He’s been a rock for us.”
“(Groves) has regional final experience and he’s throwing all our best opponents — he’s throwing against everybody else’s ace and we know we’ve got a chance when he’s on the mound,” Brenning said.
Connor Stewart struck out five and allowed three hits over the final three frames to pick up the win for the Patriots.
Spencer Kiehl started for the Cardinals (17-4, 10-3) and allowed one unearned run over 5.1 innings, surrendering four hits and three walks along the way. He struck out five batters.
“For a sophomore, Spencer Kiehl is really, really, really good and he’s got a lot to be proud of … he did everything he needed to do to keep his team in it,” Brenning said.
Jaret Gerber tossed the remaining 3.1 innings and allowed three hits and two walks to go with three strikeouts and took the loss.
Liberty and Thomas meet again Wednesday at 5 p.m. to wrap up the league schedule.
Follow Michael Rich on Twitter @mrichdelgazette.