By Gary Fauber
Assistant Sports Editor
Liberty coach J.J. Tabor knows his team could go into the postseason with a sub-.500 record, and that’s OK by him.
It’s all part of his master plan.
“We know what kind of region we play in, and we know what kind of section we play in,” Tabor said. “We know who we have to beat. And so my philosophy this year — really, it’s this way every year — is to play one of the toughest schedules of any team around. I challenge every double-A team around here to see if they play the type of schedule we do. A lot of them play good quality schedules, but 15 of our 32 are against ranked teams.”
The Raiders (2-2), tied with PikeView for ninth in Class AA in the latest West Virginia Sports Writers Poll, cannot be accused of ducking anyone. They have five games scheduled against ranked Class AAA teams, eight in Class AA and two against Class A No. 10 Man, which beat No. 2 Valley last week in Smithers.
Liberty played Class AAA No. 5 Nitro on Saturday and has two scheduled against third-ranked Woodrow Wilson. Then there are two each against Class AA No. 2 Independence — including today at 5:30 p.m. in Coal City — and No. 5 Wyoming East which beat the Raiders 11-5 last week. Later in the season, Liberty will play at No. 1 and reigning state champion Herbert Hoover.
By the time it’s all said and done, Liberty’s record could be downright awful. But one key word describes Tabor’s method.
“If we are going to move forward, then we have to see the pitching that these teams can provide,” Tabor said. “We may take some bumps along the way, but I have told the boys that. We need to be prepared when May rolls around. If I wanted to make our record look good (against bad teams), I’m pretty sure I could make that happen.”
Through four games, the Raiders are hitting .365 as a team. Junior catcher Jake Lacek is 7 for 13 (.539) with three doubles and five runs batted in. Outfielder Jordon Hosaflook, a transfer from Woodstock, Va., is batting an even .500 (5 for 10), and hard-hitting first baseman Dylan Keel is at .462.
On the mound, Jordan Atkins and Lacek are both 1-1. Atkins has a 2.84 earned run average.
Tabor wants to see improvement from the defense, which has committed 12 errors in four games. The Raiders were trailing Nitro 6-1 last Saturday, but one error in the fifth led to five unearned runs and an 11-1, 5-inning win for the Wildcats.
Still, the sixth-year coach is not discouraged.
“I have seen great potential, but we have to realize that potential and reach it,” he said. “I don’t want our schedule to get to the point where it is demoralizing, and I have been preaching that to the team. If we lose a few in a row here and there, I don’t want them to think that we can’t play with that sort of team.
“This will make us better for the future, if we stay mentally strong.”
— E-mail: email@example.com and follow on Twitter @GaryFauber.