Rich Muraco, Twitter photo
Saturday, May 24, 2014 | 5:49 p.m.
Nick Didier had plans of turning the Liberty High baseball program into a championship-contending team immediately.
Then, the Patriots won just 12 games. And the following year, in 2009, Didier’s team endured a seven-win season.
“But I always knew we would be better,” said Didier, now in his eighth year as Liberty’s head coach. “I always felt I was getting my foot in the door of something special.”
Today, the Patriots accomplished that something special.
They beat Centennial 5-3 in the Division-I state championship game at UNR’s Peccole Park, using a pair of run-scoring triples from Preston Pavlica to earn the program’s first title.
The school opened in 2003. Like most programs in their infancy, the baseball team suffered more than its share of lopsided defeats. Some days, they appeared to be improved. Other days, Didier wasn’t as optimistic.
“You always imagine yourself getting better. When you don’t, you kind of get down on yourself,” he said.
Liberty’s senior class did its share to change the fortunes. Nine from the class of 2014, led by four-year players Josh McCollum and Dan Skelly, ended their careers with a win. They also won the American Legion state title the past two summers.
“These boys have been playing together for a long time,” Didier said. “They have been like my kids for four years. I love these kids like they were my own. They had in their minds to have a successful season. Anything less than (state) wouldn’t have been successful.”
Last year, Liberty lost to eventual state champion Coronado 6-4 in the Sunrise Regional championship game. They also lost the state play-in game to Gorman.
This year, they wouldn’t be denied.
Liberty’s four victories in last week’s Sunrise Regional tournament came by a combined six runs. In the double-elimination state tournament, they beat Centennial 3-2 Friday.
Trevor Mullaney, whom Didier converted from a reliever to a starter two weeks ago, pitched six solid innings today to earn the win. Jay Martz had a pair of sacrifice flies. But it was Pavlica’s triples that were the difference, helping Liberty score three times in the fifth inning to take a 5-1 lead.
“He’s our spark plug,” Didier said of Pavlica.
Liberty finished with a 31-5 record. They’ll finally hang regional and state championship banners in the school gym. Although it took longer than Didier wanted, he’s built the state’s best baseball program.
Now comes the next challenge — doing it again.
“I don’t want to say a championship completes the cycle,” he said. “I think we will be competitive and good a long time.”