Peoria Liberty sophomore Tyler Wyatt is quickly cultivating a reputation as the kryptonite for rival Peoria Sunrise Mountain.
Wyatt already boosted Liberty to one win over its down-the-road rival with a full-count grand slam in a 6-4 victory on March 12. Friday he backed that performance by pitching a shutout and driving in three runs to down Sunrise Mountain 4-0.
“I play football too, so I know the rivalry,” Wyatt said. “It’s deep down that we have to beat Sunrise. There’s no question about it.”
Most of the game was a pitchers’ duel between Wyatt and Sunrise Mountain senior Joel Kuhnel. Wyatt struck out 11 and walked just one in a complete-game effort for Liberty (11-0-1), while Kuhnel fanned three, walked one scattered three hits in four innings for Sunrise Mountain (12-7).
Kuhnel surrendered just one run, which was unearned, but was pulled from the game to start the fifth after giving up a single and a walk to start the inning.
Replacement Billy Oxford didn’t fare much better as Liberty immediately loaded the bases with an infield single. Oxford coaxed a groundball for a force-out at home, but then Wyatt slapped a three-run double down the leftfield line.
“That kid’s hit the ball to the right side of second base every single at-bat for the last two years, and he pulls one,” Sunrise Mountain coach Eric Gardner said.
“They were throwing me in all day,” Wyatt said. “I was getting jammed, I was late. So I told myself that I need to be down earlier and recognize the pitch faster. I saw a fastball in, like they were pitching me all game, and I just turned on it and threw my hands and trusted myself.”
Wyatt might not have had that opportunity if not for a fluke play a few batters earlier. With runners on first and second with no outs, Oxford pitched inside to the first batter he faced, Liberty’s Kyle Anulao. The ball was too far inside, and Anulao pulled away and brought his bat up defensively.
The pitch struck the bat and rolled down the third base line, staying fair for an infield single.
“That’s kind of been our thing lately, man,” Gardner said. “We just cannot catch a break. We’re throwing the ball in, we know they’re bunting, and all the sudden it’s fair.”
Rudy Karre went 2 for 3 for Liberty with a run scored, and Seth Martinez went 1 for 3 with a double for Sunrise Mountain.