Liberty baseball evens region race with Centennial

Liberty’s John Cherpak (#15) greets his teammate at home after hitting a two-run homerun against Centennial Tuesday, April 18, 2017 at Liberty High School in Peoria. (Jacob Stanek/West Valley Preps)

Jeff Edgington
Special to West Valley Preps

The 5A Northwest Region title banner will eventually be printed, but which gymnasium it will hang in remains a mystery after Tuesday.

With one week left in the regular season, bragging rights are all square in the budding young rivalry between Centennial and Liberty.

Tuesday, the Liberty Lions held serve and rode their ace Isaiah Montoya to a 6-1 victory over Peoria rival Centennial to split the head to head and pull even at 5-1 in region play.

Senior catcher John Cherpak hit a two-run blast to left-center field off of Coyotes relief pitcher Aaron Forrest in the third Inning and the Lions didn’t look back from there.

Freshman starter Michael Keevins was replaced after just two innings, but that move didn’t pan out for Centennial. Coach Vince Castaldo turned to senior Aaron Forrest to get a long relief spot.

Centennial’s Jake Castaldo (#2) fields a ground ball against Liberty Tuesday, April 18, 2017 at Liberty High School in Peoria. (Jacob Stanek/West Valley Preps)

Forrest has been a workhorse for the Coyotes over three seasons. On this day the Lions got to him as it broke open a little bit in the bottom of the sixth.

“We had some good at bats. That freshman they threw is going to be good,” Liberty Coach Chris Raymond saidThe No. 2 ranked Lions (19-6, 12-3 regular season) pounced on the rarity from Forrest. The bottom of the sixth included a two-RBI double for Jace Johnson.

Also on the day Grant Lung had two hits. Jake Kelley worked the final inning of relief.

Coach Raymond said his steady arm working around a few leadoff base-runners. The Lions benefited from two crucial uncommon plays in the field as well.

A 9-3 double-off at first negated a threat in the fifth and a fake pick-off throw to second base eliminated a confused Coyote runner.

“We’ve been working on that a little in practice we used to try it at Sunrise when I was there (As an assistant). Anyway I just felt like gambling there. Isaiah and Tyler (Hajjar) sold it pretty well,” said Coach Raymond.

Centennial (12-11-1, 10-6 regular season) sits at No. 8 and knows it could get a third crack at their neighbors. The 5A State Tournament begins Saturday, April 29. For now, the Coyotes hope to avoid the play-in portion of the postseason on April 26.

Do so, and Centennial will join Liberty in hosting a game.

Liberty has quite the resume including wins against Sunrise Mountain, Mesa Skyline, Phoenix Pinnacle, and Scottsdale Desert Mountain among others.

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