Baseball preview: Liberty

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Young, but strong?

By Mike Forster


On paper, the Liberty Minutemen don't shape up as the top dogs of the Seminole District.

That assertion, however, means exactly zero in the central part of the County.  The Minutemen should be gritty and determined.  Throw in a good dose of solid pitching and aggressive hitting, and they should be positioned to give teams a run for their money.

Whether that translates into a run for district (or conference) glory remains to be seen.

No doubt, the Minutemen have a tough row to hoe.  The Seminole is rife with danger in the forms of Amherst and Jefferson Forest.

In Conference 30, Liberty has the uncomfortable company of Rustburg, Heritage, Brookville and Tunstall.

"We want to finish in the top three for the conference (playoff) bracket," said Liberty Head Coach Mike Thompson.  Such placement means the Minutemen would need just one win in conference play to make the regional berth.  Given that lions' den of teams, Thompson's charges face a tall order.

That tall order will have to be filled by a squad of 17 players, of which only four are seniors.

Three of those seniors seem to make up the core of the pitching staff.  Will Grant, who was very strong on the mound last season, has put on some muscle.  The right hander is also the top dog at first base when not tossing the tater.

Dylan Oleson, another righty, is a hard thrower with a good curve ball.  He'll bring that strong arm to shortstop.  Along with Grant, Oleson will be one of the two top starting pitchers.

Nelson Carroll will be the man out of the pen for the Minutemen.  The strapping senior has developed a submarine delivery, which could be quite a unique experience for the batsmen he faces.

Carroll, a good hitter, will also plug in at right field, having converted from first base.

The final senior is Josh Whalen.  He looks to be the most versatile player on the team.  He split time between second base and the outfield last year.  This season, given that graduation depleted last year's outfield, Whalen is slated to roam center field.

A hard-nosed ballplayer who knows only one speed and rarely strikes out, he's the prototype leadoff hitter.

Junior Austin Porter may well shape up to be one of the finest catchers in the area.  Quarterback on the football team and post player in basketball, Porter embodies toughness.

In fact, we pity the base runner who goads an encounter at the plate.  Porter is bound to leave the fellow hurting.  His leadership should be a key factor in any Minutemen success.

Another player that should stand out for the Minutemen is Lance Parker.  The sophomore looks solid at third base.  If he can limit his strikeouts, he could be quite a gem at the #3 slot in the order.

Hunter Witt, another sophomore, seems to be the best pure infielder on the team.  He's plugged in at second base, but could find time at short.  

Freshman Alex Robertson seems likely to cover shortstop when Oleson is pitching.  If he and Witt can develop as a middle infield tandem, Liberty could be set for the next couple of years.

A major concern for Thompson at this point is left field.  Right now, he's looking at a committee of juniors Hunter Byers, Josh Padgett and Tyler Harris.  All three are converted infielders.

Confounding things is the difficulty of playing left at Jim Cutler Field.  The sun is frequently a factor as is the condition of the turf.  Whichever of the three deals with those conditions and proves himself at the plate is likely to find a home in left.

  According to Thompson, the team's motto is, "Leave it better than you found it."

Thompson is quick to point out that the motto is more than about just baseball.  It encompasses school, work, life.

As far as baseball goes, there is a high level of confidence that this crew will find their baseball fortunes in better shape than when it found them at the start of this run.

But, will it be enough of an improvement to reach the regional level?

While there is a lot of depth and desire, it is the bats, gloves and arms which should be the final arbiters.