Lions off to promising start on the diamond

Photo by Angelo Garcia Jr.

Liberty baseball player Nick Goff swings at a pitch during a game last season. The Lions are 6-4 and 1-0 in league play this season.

The Liberty High baseball team this season has a combination of youth and experience that the coach hopes will serve the Lions well.

They have eight seniors. But of the 13 juniors on the roster, five played on the varsity team last year as sophomores.

“The team is looking good,” coach Andrew Lonsdale said. “We brought back a lot of returners. We had a young team and are still young in pitching.”

The opening part of the season has generally been positive for Liberty. The Lions opened with a pair of close losses, falling 4-3 to Cal High and 4-1 to Redwood. That was followed up with a four-game winning streak, in which the young pitching staff recorded two shutouts. Liberty fell 3-1 to Bear Creek and 7-3 to Acalanes but bounced back with a 14-4 win over Soledad on March 12.

Lonsdale was left encouraged by the 5-4 start. He said that the losses generally came against good teams and were games that Liberty had a chance to win. Conversely, he said he didn’t feel especially lucky to have any of the five wins. The game against Soledad was the last for the Lions until their Bay Valley Athletic League opener, which was played at Deer Valley on Tuesday, March 22. But two days before the game with the Wolverines, Lonsdale was encouraged.

“With league starting up next week, I’m looking forward to us getting into a groove,” he said. With some consistency, I think we’ve got a good chance to make some noise in the league.”

In the BVAL opener, that’s more or less what happened. Liberty got off to a strong start, scoring twice in the top of the first inning, once more in the third inning and three times in the fifth to open up a 6-0 lead. The Wolverines responded, scoring twice in the fifth and once more in the sixth to cut the deficit to 6-3. But the game would get no closer. The Lions moved to 1-0 in league play and 6-4 overall.

Lonsdale has been encouraged by the pitching of sophomore Cole Ehrhorn and junior David Roberts. Lonsdale called junior infielder and catcher Nick Goff (who also closes for the Lions), the team’s most consistent early-season hitter. He also lauded the performances of junior outfielder Evan Matienzo and sophomore third baseman Michael Baker, who both also pitch.

“We have a really good group of kids -- and great parents and families,” Lonsdale said. “They’ve been putting in the work all season. In the weight room all fall and winter. I’m trying to do my best to give them the best opportunity to fulfill their goals and dreams this season.”

One of the goals of the team is to win the BVAL. As Lonsdale put it, “We’re not lacing it up to go .500.”

But he also knows that a record just above .500 could prove to be the winning total.

“It’s the most balanced league this year,” Lonsdale said. “There’s no easy walkover and I don’t know if there’s a runaway team. I could see 7-3 or 6-4 win league. We should be right there in the mix to challenge everyone in the league every day that we’re out there.”

One of the things that’s helped the Lions is getting to play a normal non-league schedule. Lonsdale’s first season was 2020, which was canceled shortly after it began. The 2021 season was better, but featured nothing but league games. Also, since all sports were played during the spring, it led to some double-booking.

“It’s been great,” the coach said. “Our first couple non-league games were the first time some of these guys had the chance to play a non-BVAL opponent since freshman or sophomore seasons. Kids this age don’t even remember what that’s like, especially if it wasn’t varsity. It’s been great to see other NCS teams outside of the league. Plus last year, kids were doing two sports at the same time.”

Beyond winning league and making the North Coast Section playoffs, Lonsdale hopes to help the kids in the program better situate themselves for what happens after high school -- regardless of whether those plans include baseball.

“Obviously, we want to make sure every kid graduates and make sure they’re academically set,” he said. “On the field, we want to help them get better; hopefully, get them to play at the next level if that’s what they want or get them prepared for the next step.”

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