NORTH LIBERTY — Iowa City Liberty experienced growing pains the last few seasons as a new school and fledgling baseball program.
The Lightning made steady improvements in their first seasons, posting a 23-18 record last year.
In the words of Liberty Coach Tom Cronk, those little guys are now grown men on the baseball diamond.
“We have a bunch of three-year starters and they’ve been through battles,” Cronk said. “We have a chance to win every night because we’ve been through those battles. Our guys are confident that they can compete.”
Liberty recorded its third straight victory over a top-10 opponent Tuesday night, sweeping Class 4A No. 8 Iowa City West, 5-4 and 8-1, in a Mississippi Valley Conference doubleheader at home. The Lightning improved to 5-1 this season.
The sweep comes on the heels of a split with No. 6 Western Dubuque. Both opponents were state tournament teams a year ago.
“It’s huge for us,” senior Tyler Dahm said. “We’re a team with confidence. We believe we can compete with anybody in the state. Getting those wins gives us a punch and it helps us going into the rest of the season.”
Liberty opened the season on the verge of the rankings, receiving votes. More votes will be a certainty when the next poll is taken, but that doesn’t matter. They are focused on themselves and they have plenty of potential.
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“For us, it’s about us,” Cronk said. “When we play well, pitch well and throw strikes, we can compete with anybody in the state. When we’re not, we can lose to anybody in the state.
“We are what we are. We’ll go to bat against anybody.”
Seven Liberty batters had at least one hit. Dahm led the way with three doubles, including one for an RBI in the sixth, which proved to be the game winning run. He also scored two runs.
West took an early 1-0 lead in the first when Ben Vander Leest doubled and scored on an Ian McAreavy groundout. McAreavy added an RBI single in the seventh.
Liberty tied it in the bottom half when Dahm scored on Sam Funke’s sacrifice fly.
Marcus Morgan led off the third with a solo home run, but Liberty regained the lead in its half, scoring two on a West fielding error.
West tied it in the fifth, but consecutive doubles by Keian Secrist and Funke put Liberty ahead for good.
Every time West challenged Liberty had an answer. The experience comes through in those situations. It is indicative of the growth over the years.
“We’ve had a lot of adversity in the past,” Dahm said. “We fought back. We learned from those. We got better from them. It’s going to be better for us as we keep going.”
The Lightning received strong pitching performances from starters Jacob Norris in Game 1 and Ethan O’Donnell in the nightcap. Norris struck out 10 in 4 1/3, giving way to reliever Cody Schroeder.
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O’Donnell faced the minimum batters through five innings, getting strong support from his defense. Dahm came in and pitched a perfect seventh.
“We feel real good on the mound. When you are good on the mound, you can compete with anybody.”
O’Donnell has been a consistent contributor on the mound for Liberty and his ability to induce groundballs complements the experience infield that is anchored by a trio of three-year starters.
“Ethan is efficient. His ball has good movement. He’s not dominant, throwing 90, but he’s in the zone with movement and command of three pitches. He’s going to be that way all year long.”
The Lightning jumped to an early lead, tallying four runs in the first inning and four more in the third.
Isaac Bender had an RBI single in the opening frame and had two hits overall. Funke had a two-run single in the third, giving him four RBIs for the night.
“We have the ability to put all three phases together,” Cronk said. “Our guys play hard which gives us a chance to be aggressive. We’re lucky to have a lot of talented players. It’s a good place to be, right now.”
West (1-3) got two hits from Morgan and three from Vander Leest in the opener. Will Hoeft had three hits, including two in the nightcap.
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