McCollum’s homer, glove guide Liberty

Josh McCollum was quick to point out that pitching kept Liberty’s baseball team within striking distance of Faith Lutheran. But it was McCollum’s bat that pushed the Patriots over the top.

McCollum hit a tiebreaking, two-run home run in the seventh inning, and Liberty held on for a 4-2 road victory over the Crusaders on Saturday.

McCollum, the Patriots’ sophomore second baseman, said he guessed right on a changeup by Faith Lutheran starting pitcher Josh Murtha.

“He had been throwing off-speed pitches the whole game, trying to keep us off balance,” McCollum said. “He had me off balance the first couple at-bats. I thought I’d stay back (for) a changeup. That’s what I got, and I drove it.”

Liberty’s Griffin Kelly led off the seventh with a single, and pinch runner Giovanni Battistoni took second on a sacrifice bunt by Preston Pavlica. McCollum followed with his home run to give the Patriots (10-4-1) a two-run cushion.

“We actually moved the runner over for that, just to try to play for one (run), but (McCollum) ended up getting the pitch he wanted, and he hammered it over the left-center fence,” Liberty coach Nick Didier said. “That was huge getting a two-run lead, because one swing couldn’t hurt us.”

McCollum also made a sharp play at second base to begin the bottom of the seventh, making a diving grab of a ground ball and popping up to make the throw to first base.

“That actually set the tone for the bottom of the seventh, not getting a leadoff runner on. That’s a great play and almost as big a pick-me-up as (McCollum’s) home run,” Didier said.

Faith Lutheran (10-6-1) put runners on first and second with two outs, but Chris Bradford got Erich Uelmen to ground out to clinch the Patriots’ third victory in three days.

Four Liberty pitchers combined to limit Faith Lutheran to six hits. Niko Blindeagle threw a scoreless sixth inning for the win, and Bradford got a save.

McCollum had three RBIs, and Nate Bennett doubled and scored for Liberty.

Murtha struck out six in 6 1/3 innings for the Crusaders, who had won five in a row. Zach Skipper went 2-for-4 with a double.

Contact reporter Tristan Aird at taird@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-5203. Follow him on Twitter: @tristanaird.

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