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Late-game heroics help Jackson Liberty sweep Point Pleasant Borough

Jackson Liberty High School pitcher Carl Barth fires a strike past a Point Pleasant Borough High School batter during a game played on May 21 in Point Pleasant. Jackson Liberty won 3-0.

The Jackson Liberty High School baseball team found itself in a scoreless affair heading into the seventh inning of its game against Shore Conference B South Division rival Point Pleasant Borough High School on May 21 in Point Pleasant.

The game had the feel of a county or state tournament to Lions’ Coach Jim Rankin, who saw his players thrive in the big moments of the seventh inning to earn their eighth victory of the 2021 campaign.

The Lions (8-6) struck for three runs in the top of the seventh. In the bottom of the seventh, senior Dan Keenan came on in relief to shut the door on a 3-0 victory, the team’s second straight shutout victory over the Panthers.

“It was a really good team win,” Rankin said. “These types of games are what you are going to have to play in during state and county tournaments. To gain that experience from a pitching angle, a defensive angle and a hitting angle is great here toward the end of the season.”

Senior Jake Hickman helped the Lions break through to score the game’s first run in the top of the sevening. Hickman hit with the bases loaded and one out.

After being robbed of a hit by Point Pleasant Borough third baseman Carl Divona in his previous at bat, Hickman smacked a line drive over Divona to drive home Jackson Liberty’s first run for a 1-0 lead.

Hickman later called the hit one of his top high school moments.

“Games like this that come down to the wire are what you live for. It’s great to get a go-ahead hit like that,” he said.

Next up was Sean Yurgel who, after missing several off-speed pitches in his first three at bats, sent the first fastball he saw back up the middle to score two runs for a 3-0 lead.

“My approach was simple. Just drive the ball through the infield and get the runs in. It felt great,” he said.

Junior R.J. Vashey contributed two hits in the victory.

In the bottom of the seventh, the Panthers’ first two hitters reached base. At that point, Rankin made the move to bring in Keenan.

Keenan later said that as he started to throw, his arm felt good and he knew he was going to be able to set down the Panthers.

He struck out the first two batters he faced and then got Connor Cilento to pop out to first to end the game.

“It’s always a great feeling to go out there and dominate a team. I live for those moments when I can come in and do what I do,” he said.

Keenan, senior Carl Barth and junior Garrett Drew combined for the shutout victory. Together, they struck out 10 hitters.

In Jackson Liberty’s 5-0 victory over the Panthers on May 19, Chris Sasso, Zaine Toneske and Ethan Bloomfield combined to pitch the shutout.

Jackson Liberty had won five of its last seven games heading into a game today, May 22, against Howell.

Seeing smiles on his players’ faces after the May 21 victory over Point Pleasant Borough was an “awesome” sight for Rankin, who said he believes the Lions’ resiliency has helped them pull through in games this season and still be in the running for the B South crown.

“My guys are really enjoying the opportunity to be out here and playing. They are a resilient group. They have kept a very level head and come ready to work every day in practice. They are really just embracing the opportunity to play,” the coach said.

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