Nolan Gorman expected his best friend to come after him in the much-anticipated showdown Thursday night at Grand Canyon University that had about 80 pro scouts and a playoff atmosphere.
But the Phoenix Sandra Day O’Connor senior third baseman hadn’t seen that slider before.
Glendale Mountain Ridge left-hander Matthew Liberatore got Gorman to line out to right, strike out on a 2-2 slider and tap back to him on the mound for an out on another slider.
In the end, Liberatore had to leave after striking out his 13th batter to begin the sixth inning because he reached the mandated pitch limit, and watch sophomore Zach Rogers retire the last five batters to preserve a 2-1 6A Desert Valley region baseball victory before a big crowd.
“He brought everything,” Gorman said. “He had that new pitch. I don’t know what it is. A slider. He throws it as a cutter sometimes. But we got his pitch count up.”
Liberatore left after throwing 107 pitches.
“We were trying to get two more hitters out of him,” coach Artie Cox said. “But that hitter did a good job of fouling the ball off of him.
“He got stronger I thought as it went on.”
Liberatore (5-1 record with 74 strikeouts in 40 1/3 innings) got through the meat of O’Connor’s order, leaving Rogers to work from the fifth to the ninth batters to finish the game.
“Slider,” Liberatore described as the new pitch he broke in four starts ago.
How good was it working?
“I probably had one outing where it was a little bit better, more consistent,” Liberatore said. “I left a couple up tonight. But for the most part, it had good bite.”
After giving up a leadoff single to Jayce Easley, who then stole his 30th and 31st bases of the season, Liberatore settled in to get Gorman to line out and the next two batters to strike out, stranding Easley on third.
Liberatore struck out four in a row, before walking two straight. From the first to the fourth, Liberatore struck out 10.
He gave up his second hit of the game in the fourth against Mason Skaugrud. After a walk, Liberatore retired the next two batters, two on strikeouts.
“He was coming after me,” said Gorman, who entered the game hitting .424 with eight home runs and 31 walks. “We’re best friends. We want to compete against each other.”