Heritage took the first encounter 5-4 in 10 innings, but Freedom won last week 2-1 in eight innings. The victory gave the Falcons the edge in the rubber match because they had also crushed the Patriots at Heritage 11-0 in early April.
Freedom’s 10-1 BVAL record (16-4 overall) after its victory over Heritage clearly establishes the Falcons as the class of the league. Although Heritage has undergone a shakier season (5-6 league, 10-10 overall), the team has been peaking at just the right time, coming into the contest with a four-game winning streak in which it outscored the opposition by 35-0.
So it looked like it could be anybody’s game – and it pretty much was until the bottom of the eighth when Freedom’s Jeremy Maniz hit a bases-loaded single to knock in the winning run.
Much of the game was a pitchers’ duel between Freedom’s Jordan Alexander, who throws an excellent curve that appears to be heading for the ribs of right-handed batters before breaking over the plate for a called strike, and Heritage’s Sean Packard, who kept Freedom’s hitters off-stride and off-base for much of the game.
Freedom got on the board in the third inning when Jose Reyes singled home Tim Gulbransen, who had singled and moved to second on Maniz’s single.
Through the first four innings, Alexander had given up only one hit. So in the top of the fifth, a Heritage fan shouted, “Gotta hit the ball, fellas. C’mon Heritage, let’s get to this guy.” That bit of encouragement paid off. The first batter, Kyle Wells, doubled to right, moved to third on Ryan Atlas’ sacrifice grounder and scored on Packard’s single to tie it up.
Alexander was replaced in the eighth by freshman Joe Navlon, who throws hard but is a little wild. He walked two but got out of the inning when Stephen Zeiler grounded out.
Packard began to tire in the eighth, allowing a single to Andrew Soto followed by an excellent bunt back to the mound by Daniel Pereira that put men on first and second. At that point, Manager Gary Alexander brought in Juan Padilla in relief. Padilla might be a better starter than a reliever, because he walked the first batter he faced, Tim Gulbransen, to load the bases, and then gave up Maniz’s walk-off single.
“It’s an exciting win, I can tell you that much,” said Alexander. “I don’t think we came out as excited as I would have liked us to be – too relaxed, I think. Jordan pitched a heck of a game; kept us right in there. Then the freshman comes in and does his job for an inning.”
Alexander also credited Justin D’Amico’s great defense at first base, Pereira’s bunt and Maniz attacking the first pitch for the game winner. “We played the right kind of game at the end,” said Alexander. “I was proud of them.”
In the next-to-the-last regular-season games, Freedom hosts Antioch on Tuesday at 4 p.m. while Heritage hosts Liberty.