By J. Daniel Rollins
Register-Herald Sports Writer
The similarities between Indepenence and Liberty high schools are plentiful. Both schools are designed on the same blueprint. Both schools opened in 1976. Both schools have names that invoke the American spirit of the bicentenial year they were opened.
On Thursday night, one was just a little bit better than the other.
The No. 3-ranked Liberty Raiders defeated No. 6 Independence 5-4 in a big sectional matchup at Joseph H. Goddard Field in Coal City.
It was a close, hard-fought battle between the two Raleigh County rivals, who traded the lead four times before the final out.
“It’s especially good to win when you don’t play your ‘A’ game,” Liberty coach J.J. Tabor said. “You come over here and get a sectional win on a rival’s field, ya gotta love it.”
Independence led 3-2 in the top of the fourth inning, when the Raiders rallied to take the lead.
Indy’s Brian Sexton hit Colten Taylor on the first pitch of the inning and then gave up a double to Austin Lyons. Dakota Boulet hit a sacrifice fly to center, scoring Taylor to tie it 3-3.
Sexton dispatched Joey Lacek and Dylan Keel before Matthew Bailey knocked in a pair of runs with a two-out double.
“Two-out hits,” Tabor said. “Big time hitting like we’ve had all year. We kept battling in there. Two-out hits, they say you go to heaven on those.”
Liberty didn’t do it with just the sticks. Pitcher Jordan Atkins had a stellar game, throwing seven innings, striking out six.
“I didn’t really try to think about the runners when they got on base,” Atkins said. “I knew we had a good defense, a good infield behind me. I was just focused on the hitter.”
“It was a gutsy performance out of Jordan,” Tabor said. “He probably should have only gave up two runs. We had a miscue here or there, but that’s baseball. They (Indy) could’ve made another play or two, but we made them when it counted.”
Independence’s Sexton also had a good performance on the mound, despite the loss. The junior hurler struck out six Raiders.
Jeremy McGinnis hit a solo home run for the Patriots.
“I thought Liberty played real hard,” Independence coach Scott Cuthbert said. “We couldn’t get the hit at the right time. They swung the bats real well and got that big double in the fourth. Brian — he battled. It wasn’t his best day, but he battled. We played decent defense but couldn’t get the offense together.”
Despite the loss, Cuthbert feels his team has a good core.
“We’ve played a lot of really good teams,” Cuthbert said. “We can compete with most teams around. When we hit the ball, we’re a pretty good team. We have good pitching, good defense, we just need to keep working on our offense.”
Independence will get its chance for revenge on Liberty when the two schools match up in Glen Daniels on Wednesday.
Liberty will travel to Clear Fork to play Westside today at 5 p.m. while Indy travels to Greenbrier West.
— E-mail: jrollins
@register-herald.com and follow on Twitter at @JDanielRollins.