Independence pitcher Jeremy McGinnis looked nervous in the first inning. His team was playing for a chance to move on to the regional semifinals. He was pitching against the heart of the rival Liberty lineup and the Raiders dugout was heckling him like a group of seaboard pirates.
There were runners on first, second and third and rain was pouring down. There wasn’t a lot that seemed to be going right for the young pitcher.
But somehow, just as he did several more times throughout the night, he managed to get out of the jam and only gave up one of two runs on the night in the Patriots’ 10-2 victory over Liberty, effectively ending the Raiders season.
“I was a little worried; I was a little scared,” McGinnis said. “Their dugout keeps it up all the time. They have that hype in them. They try to mess with you as a pitcher, but you’ve just got to block it out.”
McGinnis did just that, holding the normally hot-hitting Raiders to just five hits in six innings, striking out five.
“My defense picked me up,” McGinnis said. “They’re just a great team.”
“About the last two weeks, our bats started going cold,” Liberty coach J. J. Tabor said. “I was worried and it still hadn’t picked back up. I knew we weren’t going to win any close games. We were going to have to score runs to win, and we just didn’t do it.
“Let me be clear, Independence was the better team,” Tabor added. “They beat us three out of four times. You’ve got to take your hat off to them and what coach Cuthbert is doing. He’s got a good ball club, and he’s got a good chance to make it far.”
While Liberty’s bats went cold, the Patriots sticks got hot.
Indy peppered Liberty’s young pitching phenom Jake Lacek for 11 hits and 10 runs through 5 1/3 innings, including two home runs for sophomore Andrue Hughart.
“I was ready to hit,” Hughart said. “Jake Lacek is a great pitcher. He threw it inside, and I pulled it.”
Hughart went 3-for-4 with two home runs and five RBIs in the victory. He was even called on to close out the game in the seventh inning.
“I was thinking about absolutely nothing,” Hughart said. “I had a clear head and just wanted to get those three outs.”
The victory gave first-year Independence head coach Scotty Cuthbert his first-ever sectional championship.
“It feels really good, but ya know, the kids played really well,” Cuthbert said. “I had a lot of help. Coach (Chris) Walls has been really important, so has my brother Mark (Cuthbert) and coach (Josh) Wright. It’s not been one person.”
While the team was given a trophy for the victory, the biggest reward is moving on to the regional semifinals, where they’ll match up with the defending state champion, Wyoming East Warriors.
“We’ve just got to keep swinging and stay ready,” Cuthbert said. “Hopefully we might be able to play a game or two towards the end of next week to get ready, but it’s tough. I think if you’re going to make it through to Charleston, you might as well play the big ones early.”
While it’s moving on for the Patriots, it was the last game played for three Raiders: Matthew Bailey, Austin Lyons and Joey Lacek.
“Austin and Joey were four-year starters,” Tabor said. “Both of them in my mind are two of the best. I wouldn’t trade them for anybody. The same goes for Matt Bailey. He came in and it’s his second year with us. I wish he had been with us the whole time. They’re three absolutely wonderful seniors.”
— E-mail: jrollins
Independence 10, Liberty 2
L: 100 100 0 — 2 5 0
I: 140 203 x — 10 11 1
L: Jake Lacek, Joey Lacek (6) and Trevor Quarles. I: Jeremy McGinnis, Andrue Hughart (7) and Ryan Brandstetter, Jeremy McGinnis (7) WP — McGinnis. LP — Lacek. Hitting — L: Austin Lyons 2-4 (Run), Matt Bailey 1-3 (2B), Seth Prince 1-3 (Run), Meechie Brown 1-2 (2B). I: Drew D’Angelo 3-3, Wyatt Adkins 1-2 (2B, 2 Run, 2 RBIs), Andrue Hughart 3-4 (2 HRs, 2 Runs, 5 RBIs), Brian Sexton 1-4 (RBI), Tanner Ray 1-2, Jeremy McGinnis 3-4 (2B, RBI).