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Contact doesn’t translate to hits for Liberty in loss to Chancellor baseball team

Monday, May. 5 | By Jeff Malmgren
Bailey Russell and the Liberty Eagles lost to Chancellor, 12-2, Monday. --Photo by Rick Wasser
It took only 68 pitches to 86 the Liberty Eagles.

Chancellor's Mason Riser pitched to contact Monday en route to a complete-game victory over the Eagles, 12-2, on the road in Bealeton. He struck out only four batters but limited the Eagles to five hits as they frequently put the ball in play early in the count with Riser relying on an impressive defensive performance by the Chargers.

"We want action in the first three pitches" of an at bat, Chancellor coach J.P. Gibbons said. "He let the defense play behind him. … Gritty performance."

The Eagles frequently hit the ball hard Monday, but that didn't translate to offensive success like it had earlier this season. After scoring 37 runs to start the season with a 3-0 record, Liberty has lost eight consecutive games while scoring only 24 runs in that span.

"Honestly, I couldn't tell you" what's happening, Liberty third baseman Brock Smith said. "I guess we're just not in our normal groove. … I don't think we have the confidence right now."

The Eagles' latest loss dropped their record to 2-4 in Conference 22 (3-8 overall) while the Chargers improved to 3-3 (4-6).

Liberty previously lost to Chancellor, 5-3, April 23. That night, the Eagles stayed within striking distance against the Chargers' ace pitcher, Jason Morgan, who is committed to the University of North Carolina.

The Eagles couldn't do the same against Riser on Monday. They produced a double, sacrifice bunt and walk in both the first and second innings to tie the score, 2-2, but over the next five innings they had only five base runners.

Riser allowed two earned runs on five hits and four walks over seven innings. He needed only 50 pitches to get through the first six innings before Liberty loaded the bases and stranded three runners in the seventh.

"A lot of people would love to have that type of pitch count," Gibbons said of Riser, a transfer from Hedgesville (W.Va.) High, where he won the Class AAA state championship. "He is a competitor."

The same could be said for the eight fielders around Riser. The Chargers made a handful of diving and sliding catches in the outfield and were positioned perfectly to catch other line drives. In the infield, they showed excellent range to close gaps and turn potential hits into ground outs.

"Their defense was stellar," Eagles coach Jeff Crane said.

"We were stroking the ball pretty good," Smith said. "It's very frustrating to hit the ball extremely hard and then have them make just an outstanding play."

Smith, for example, finished 0-for-2 with a pair of walks after hitting a line drive during his third at bat that nearly reached the left field foul pole before Chancellor's Tyler Cross made a diving catch.

Earlier, the Chargers took a 5-2 lead in the top of the fourth inning when Morgan hit a leadoff double to deep left-center field and then Chris Ortega drove him in with a two-run home run in the same direction.

"Punch one out like that, it's definitely a momentum boost for the other guys," Crane said.

Ortega finished 1-for-3 with four runs while Morgan had two runs on 4-for-4 hitting.

"Ortega has a tremendous amount of power and I think it's finally starting to come together for him," Gibbons said. "Jason, he's obviously the ace of our staff and he's done a tremendous amount with his bat this year."

The Chargers extended their lead to 7-2 in the fifth inning, scoring two runs on a pair of wild pitches by Liberty starting pitcher Bailey Russell. In the seventh inning, they used five singles and three walks to score five runs against reliever Austin Booth.

Russell took the loss after allowing seven earned runs on seven hits and two walks while striking out two over five innings. Booth allowed five earned runs on five hits and three walks while striking out a pair over two innings.

Chancellor's Thomas Cabrera went 2-for-3 with two RBIs, two steals and a run, while Cross went 2-for-4 with two runs and an RBI.

"The whole, entire year, so far, we haven't been able to string hits together or extend innings," Gibbons said. "Today we were able to be consistent in our approach at the plate and put the ball in play."

Liberty did the same, but had little to show for it. Leadoff hitter Coy Brown and No. 9 hitter Michael Wigglesworth each went 2-for-4 with a double, while Booth had Liberty's only other hit (1-for-3).

"One game it might be the defense" struggling, Smith said. "Another game it might be the hitting, and one game it might be the pitching. We've just got to have one game where we have it all working for us."

"We've just got to crawl out of this black hole we've been in," he said. "I feel pretty confident in us."

Smith is one of 10 juniors on a Liberty roster that has only four seniors after losing most of its starting lineup to graduation following last season.

"We had a lot of holes to fill," Crane said. "We're rebuilding, and they're trying hard … and sooner or later, it's going to break for them."

The Eagles last won April 4, against Brentsville, 10-0.

"Then the snow came," Crane said. "Ever since that batch of weather shut us down there for a while … we've never been able to develop any type of momentum or rhythm."

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