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Liberty baseball ends 10-game losing streak with win over Fauquier

Saturday, May. 17 | By Jeff Malmgren
Logan Aylor and the Liberty Eagles beat Fauquier, 5-4, Saturday. --Fauquier Times Staff Photo/Randy Litzinger
Jeff Crane changed the batting order.

Austin Booth changed his bat of choice.

Alex Crofford provided a pitching change of pace.

And the baseball gods, for once, didn’t shortchange the Liberty Eagles.

So, for the first time in 43 days, Liberty won a game Saturday by beating the Fauquier Falcons, 5-4, at home in Bealeton. The victory broke a 10-game losing streak for the Eagles.

“Too long,” Booth, a Liberty senior, said. “Relieved.”

“The curse is over,” Crane, Liberty’s head coach, said. “It feels good to get the win.”

The Eagles last won April 4 during a surprising 3-0 start to their season. The losing streak ensued, however, so they now have a 4-10 record. Liberty’s 3-5 record in Conference 22 play doesn’t look as bad, though, which is a source of some optimism.

“I’m not saying we going to go to states,” Booth said, “but I’m saying we’re going to win games. We can beat a lot of teams.”

“There’s a lot less pressure on us now,” Crofford said.

By winning Saturday, the Eagles also got a little revenge against Fauquier (7-7 overall, 5-4 conference) after the Falcons defeated Liberty, 6-5, Monday in 11 innings.

“Both times we’ve seen them, we haven’t seen a team, in my opinion, that reflects their record,” Fauquier coach Matt O’Saben said.

Booth scored the winning run Saturday during an unusual play in the bottom of the fourth inning. With two outs and the game tied, 4-4, he stood on third base while Ryan Fogle stood on first. Fogle then took a large lead off the base to entice a throw from Fauquier relief pitcher Chandler Kezele.

Instead of retreating to first base as Kezele threw the ball there, Fogle initiated a rundown situation between second and first, hoping that Booth would then score from third base.

It worked. Fauquier first baseman Ryan Simpson threw the ball to Sam Batson at second base, but Batson missed the ball and it rolled into left field, allowing Booth to run home and give Liberty the lead.

With two outs in the inning, that play call from Crane was risky but rewarding.

“We put pressure on them to make the play,” he said. “We told him, if the pitcher threw over or stepped off, to try to get in a rundown.”

Earlier in the inning, with Liberty trailing, 4-3, Dylan Ramirez walked with two outs and then Booth hit a single to right field. Fauquier’s third baseman couldn’t handle the ensuing throw from right field as Ramirez slid into the bag. So the ball to skip by and Ramirez scored on the error while Booth moved all the way to third base.

Booth finished the game with two runs, a double and a walk on 3-for-3 hitting. He entered Saturday in a hitting slump, so he used a different bat than he had in games past.

Booth also hit in the leadoff spot for the first time this season. Crane decided to move Booth up from the No. 3 spot in the order and move Fogle up from the bottom of the order to the No. 2 spot.

“Austin’s one of our better contact hitters,” Crane said. “He’s not going to hit it over the fence, but he is going to find a way on. … Hitting the ball where they ain’t. He just has a knack for it.”

Fogle, meanwhile, went 1-for-2 with a walk and a run. His hit was an odd infield single in the bottom of the third inning, which Liberty entered with a 4-0 deficit.

Bailey Russell started that inning with a single and Booth added a one-out single. Fogle then hit a ball back to Fauquier’s starting pitcher, Sam Tinnesz, who spun around toward second base as though planning to initiate a double play. Tinnesz, however, did not throw the ball to Batson at second base. He instead threw it to Travis Croson, who stood more than five feet away from second base as Batson’s backup.

So the Falcons didn’t record an out on the play, loading the bases and leading to three runs on a passed ball, an RBI single by Logan Aylor and a sacrifice fly by Brock Smith.

“He made a good throw, just for some reason to the wrong guy,” O’Saben said of Tinnesz. “Even he can’t explain why he did that.

“That’s a big play,” O’Saben said. “If we execute that double play, we’re out of the inning … and it’s a different ball game.”

Fauquier took a 2-0 lead in the top of the second inning with Ty Pavlock and Kezele each hitting singles and then scoring on a throwing error. In the top of the third inning, the Falcons expanded their lead to 4-0 with Croson (single) and Charlie Simmons (walk) scoring on another throwing error.

“I got worried,” Crane said of the rough start Saturday after losing 10 consecutive games. “But they recovered.”

Crofford helped keep the Falcons from scoring again. He relived Aylor after the third inning and allowed only one hit and one walk while striking out two.

Fauquier got four hits against Aylor (one walk, four unearned runs, four strikeouts), but then struggled with the different pitching style of Crofford, who got the win. Aylor is a hard-throwing right-handed pitcher, while Crofford throws left handed and with less velocity.

“I think that helped a lot,” Crofford said. “We have a big speed difference, so it is a change [for hitters]. … I was feeling confident and just making sure I get it across the plate.”

Fauquier’s offensive production against Crofford left O’Saben frustrated.

“If somebody can find me the cure to hitting soft-throwing lefties, I’ll play him plenty of money to help us out,” O’Saben said. “Our execution at the plate almost went out the window. We didn’t stay back on the baseball and … started rolling over ground balls and started popping stuff up.”

Croson, Pavlock and Kezele each went 1-for-3 with a run, while Tanner Delph went 1-for-3 with two stolen bases, and Simmons went 0-for-1 with two walks, a stolen base and a run. For Liberty, Aylor, Crofford and Russell each went 1-for-3.

Tinnesz took the loss after allowing five runs (three earned) on seven hits and one walk while striking out three over 3 2/3 innings. Kezele struck out one and allowed three walks but no hits.

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