By Ted Waddell
LIBERTY May 21, 2004 Its tough being on the bottom of the heap.
With an attitude of if life gives you lemons, make lemonade, the host Liberty Indians and Monticello Panthers had nowhere to look but up in Mondays non-league varsity baseball game.
Both teams had their chances to peek out of the proverbial cellar, but in the end Monticello got the look, prevailing by a final score of 8-5.
In the top of the first, the Panthers leadoff batter, Justin Gray, singled and later crossed the plate on an error.
At their turn at bat in the third, the Panthers Kyle Brasington walked to open the inning and Joe Bonnaci singled. Dan Catalano had an RBI single later in the inning.
A fielders choice by Justin Labarbera scored Catalano. After Pete Murray walked, Trevor Gavin grounded out to score another Monticello run. With Francis Stevens up, the fourth run of the frame was recorded when Murray crossed the plate on a passed ball.
Trailing 5-0 in the bottom of the third, Liberty (2-12) grabbed a couple of runs back to give them a glimmer of hope.
After leadoff batter Mike Kushetsky struck out, Jason Garritt and Derek Blume ripped back-to-back singles. Casey Pazzalia hit a sacrifice fly to center field and Connor Noetzel had an RBI single as Liberty narrowed the Panthers advantage to 5-2.
In the top of the fourth, Matt Russo and Brasington earned walks. Eventually, Brasington scored on an error.
At Monticellos turn at bat in the fifth, Murray led off with a single. An error and a walk loaded the bases.
A one-out single by Russo sent Murray home.
In the bottom of the fifth, Liberty sent three runners across the plate.
Then with one out in the sixth, Libertys Kyle Fleming singled. Corey Pazzalia walked. Corey VanKuren reached base on a fielders choice. A two-out hit by Kushetsky scored a run. Garritt walked to again load the bases. An error at the mound allowed VanKuren to score.
In the top of the seventh, Monticello (2-13) closed out the games scoring when Gavin reached on an error and later crossed the plate on a groundout by Brian Brandes.
A couple of late inning antics in the infield by the Panthers added a bit of excitement to the game.
As Jesus Rodriguez sprinted into second base, he took advantage of an Indians miscue and legged it so fast to the hot corner that for a split second his batting helmet lead the way, bouncing along on the chalk while his cap blew off in the race to third base.
In the sprint to the base, the helmet won by a nose, followed by Rodriguez himself. His cap finished a distant third.
Near the conclusion of the game, Matt Russo tried to dive over Liberty first baseman Corey Pazzalia in a play that drew a gasp from the fans and both benches.
Momentarily stunned by his acrobatic aerial leap back to safety, Russo chilled out for a few seconds on the base before dusting himself off and heading back to the dugout.
Monticello sophomore pitcher Bonnaci went the distance, marking his first complete game of the year.
Liberty went through two pitchers. Midway through the fourth, Kushetsky relieved Fleming.
Monticello struggled this year, and so have we, Liberty Coach Jim OConnor said. They wanted it more than we did . . . period.
Monticello Coach John Spear said, The season is a little disappointing, record-wise.
I knew when we started, I had a lot of inexperienced players . . . when you lose six-seven-eight games in as row, its hard to keep the confidence up, he added. But we tried to stay positive and keep em focused and get our confidence back.
Note: The teams played each other again on Tuesday afternoon in Liberty. In that contest, the Indians defeated the Panthers by a final score of 10-3.
VanKuren earned the win for Liberty, pitching all seven innings. He allowed only six hits and struck out eight batters.
Noetzel paced the Indians offense with a pair of RBI.
Monticellos Catalano had two hits and an RBI.
Liberty is now 3-12 on the season and Monticellos record is 2-14.