Chapel Hill baseball’s Garrett Liebe’s walk-up song, “Bye Bye Bye” by N’Sync, turned out also to be appropriate as a walk-off song – literally – during the opening day of the Hilltop Invitational Tournament.
Liebe hit a double, stole third base and then slid home with the game-running run off a Drew Govert sacrifice fly in the bottom of the ninth inning Thursday as Chapel Hill edged past Athens Drive, 5-4 in extra innings.
The Tigers (9-2, 5-1) are no strangers to tight ball games. Their win over Athens Drive (2-8, 1-5) was their fifth victory in a row overall, and it was their fifth game this season decided by one run. The Tigers improved to 3-2 in such games.
“We’ve won tight games and we’re continuing to do that,” Chapel Hill coach Lee Land said. “Our guys answer the bell in tough spots.”
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Tyler Hansen, who pitched four scoreless innings to close the game, reiterated that point.
“We all work so hard and when it comes down to it, we’re not fazed,” he said.
The game was one of 27 scheduled for the 18 teams in the annual Hilltop Invitational Tournament, a three-day, round-robin event taking place over spring break for most News & Observer area schools. The tournament serves as a chance for area teams to keep their gloves broken in over the week-long break.
Land, who has led Chapel Hill to two straight winning seasons as head coach and is chasing his first Big-8 3A championship, views the tournament as much more for his Tigers.
“Every time we step on the field, we’re playing to win,” Land said. “We know how seeding is for the playoffs and we know non-conference at this point is just as important as conference play to build winning percentage. This is a huge win like every time we’re out on the field.”
The Tigers’ depth has played a role in their success so far this season. Thursday, Chapel Hill had six different players record a hit, eight different players get on base and three different players get work on the mound.
“We’ve done really well one through nine, and we’re young,” Land said. “We have four or five freshmen and sophomores in our lineup every night, and our seniors have been tremendous leaders.”
“We’re great, we’re so deep and anyone can come in and get their job done when they need to,” Hansen added.
Nick Herbert, Blake Rasnake (3), Connor Stough (2), Garrett Liebe (2), Jackson Cabell and Govert each got at least one hit for Chapel Hill. Nick Elston and Colin Liebe also made it on base via walks.
The Tigers have been holding nothing back this year, playing an aggressive style of baseball. On Thursday, they stole seven bases.
In the bottom of the fourth inning, Cabell even stole home to tie the game up 4-all after stealing second and advancing to third on a wild pitch.
“Our guys are having a lot of fun playing the game right now,” Land said.
Despite Athens Drive dropping another game, coach Ryan Westbrook remains encouraged by his team’s play as of late. The Jags are 2-3 in their last five games, which includes an upset win over Millbrook and a one-run loss.
“We hit the ball hard even when we got out, our defense didn’t give out, and they had to earn those runs,” Westbrook said.
Keith Markovich, Daniel Dyson (2), Lane Gorrell, Sam Enders and Kyle Venditti (3) all had hits for the Jaguars. Connor Gallimore and Adam Stuart both also reached base and combined for three runs, too.
“This is our fifth game in a row I think we’ve played well, but we’re only 2-3 to show for it,” Westbrook said. “That’s baseball, though. The best teams in the pros lose 70.”