Liberty High School softball players, from left, Kaitlyn Weisgerber,… (Photo By Noah Scialom )
Spring is often associated with a sense of rebirth and resurgence and in Carroll County, no sports program has seen that come to life like Liberty High School.
Liberty's softball team, which won just one game in 2008, completed its resurgence with a county championship and the best season in school history — and is still playing, beating Catoctin High on Friday, 7-1, at home to advance to the state semifinals for the first time since 1983.
The softball team will play Lansdowne in the Class 2A state semifinals on Tuesday, May 22, at 4 p.m., at Bachman Park in Glen Burnie.
But the Lady Lions aren't Liberty's only success story this spring:
• The Lions' baseball team won the county title, edging Manchester Valley and defending Class 4A state champion Westminster by one game.
The Lions boys' and girls' tennis teams each finished with an undefeated record and won two more county crowns for the Eldersburg school.
• And the girls' track and field team blitzed the rest of the field at the county championship meet.
Diamond cut for Lady Lions
Whether or not they advance in the state championship chase, the Lions' softball team has been an unqualified success story.
In 2008, Liberty won one game in coach Chris Szocik's first season at the helm. The program has steadily improved, and this year the Lions won 13 of 14 county games on the way to a 15-2 regular-season mark and the No. 2 seed in the Class 2A West regional tournament.
They began the postseason with a 3-0 shutout of Poolesville in the regional quarterfinals.
"A lot of our success had to do with team chemistry, plus the influx of talent," Szocik said. "It's largely the same nucleus as last season, but they've matured. This year's junior class was the centerpiece of our turnaround."
The Lions' top player is junior pitcher Mackenzie Thompson, who dominated county hitters by striking out 164 batters in 111 innings in posting a 15-2 record during the regular season. Her 1.20 earned-run average also leads the county. Potent with the bat, Thompson hit .446 during the regular season and tied for fifth among the county leaders with 16 RBIs.
"Mackenzie has been getting stronger as the season goes on," said Szocik of his standout right hander. "She works hard at it, especially in the off-season."
It helps that Thompson doesn't have to pitch a shutout for the Lions to win. Liberty boasted the county's top two hitters, junior center fielder Sammy Bost (.576) and senior third baseman Rebecca Garcia (.489).
"Sammy's work ethic is what makes her a great player," Szocik said. "She's always taking extra swings (in practice), and this year she converted to slapping the pitch. She's down to first base before they can react."
Five players, including Thompson, Garcia, senior catcher Natalie Gill, junior shortstop Julie Oros and junior outfielder Kate Weisgerber, have knocked in at least 16 runs. Another junior, second baseman Becca Oneto, has contributed a .420 average.
"We have a really good core," said Oros, who was among the county leaders in triples (four) and home runs (two). "We have a lot of smart players who know how to deal with any situation, and we really gel when we're on the field."
The school's only appearance in a state final came in 1983. Can a reborn program with excellent pitching and consistent hitting make it to the championship game in College Park?
Going into this week's contest, the team has high hopes.
"For the seniors, we want to have that (state) title as we leave Liberty," senior first baseman Krysta Valenzia said.
Massey leads from the mound
Coach Erik Barnes' baseball team earned the top seed in a tough Class 2A West Region. The Lions went 11-3 in county play, but a stunning 5-4 regional quarterfinal loss to Williamsport this week brought Liberty's 14-4 season to a sudden end.
Still, the club had much to be proud of.
"It was really a total team effort, with different guys being productive at different times," said Barnes, the 14th-year coach who guided Liberty to a state title in 2004 along with semifinal berths in 2001 and 2006. "Nobody's numbers are ridiculous, other than Andrew (Massey's) pitching numbers. But this group has a fantastic attitude, a strong work ethic, and good chemistry."
Massey was the key to the Lions' success. The senior right hander led all county pitchers with a 6-1 record, an earned run average of 0.96, and 72 strikeouts in 51 innings during the regular season.
Chosen last winter as one of the top 30 players in the state by the Maryland State Association of Baseball Coaches, Massey hasn't confined his best moments to the mound. He hit at a .344 clip, and was the county co-leader with four home runs — and second to Manchester Valley's Marty Windisch in RBIs with 26.
"We're very confident when he takes the mound," Barnes said. "He's also come up with some big, timely hits for us. And Andrew is a grinder. He's a very focused young man who provides great leadership for our team."
Massey wasn't surprised at the Lions' success.