Liberal’s Taiga Sakuma prepares to round third base against the Gameday Angels Saturday night in the season opener. The game was eventually rained out and finished Sunday. Liberal lost the opener 8-2 but rallied to win the final two games of the series. L&T photo/Earl Watt

EARL WATT

   • Leader & Times

 

One rocky inning in the season opener led to a loss for the Liberal Bee Jays to kick off the 2024 season, but better outings at the plate led to back-to-back wins in the final two games of the opening series for a 2-1 start to the season.

Liberal kicked off the season Saturday but only played three-and-a-half innings before a lightning delay and rain led to the game being postponed.

The last half inning before the delay was disastrous for the Bee Jays. The Gameday Angels plated six runs to take a 6-1 lead.

The game was postponed until 5 p.m. Sunday, and despite getting runners on base, the Bee Jays struggled to get the key hit to push them across the plate and lost 8-2.

But in Game 2 that same evening, the Bee Jays had a strong second inning and took an early 6-1 lead of their own by getting key two-out hits and taking advantage of critical Angel errors.

The Bee Jays cruised the rest of the way in an 8-3 win.

In the final game of the series Monday, the Bee Jays again gave up a big inning in the fourth aided by walks. The Angels pushed four runs across the plate to take a 5-1 lead.

The Bee Jays narrowed the gap to 5-3 after pushing a pair of runs across the plate in the fifth, and after giving a run back to the Angels in the sixth, the Bee Jays had a strong sixth inning in thanks to two Angel errors, and the Bee Jays scored four runs to take a 7-6 lead.

Gameday tied the game in the seventh, but the Bee Jays plated two runs in the eighth to take a 9-7 lead.

Liberal closed out the game with a one-two-three inning in the top of the ninth to secure the win.

“The first couple games we are trying to get our feet wet, get the guys into games and get them some at bats,” Liberal Bee Jay head coach Jared Mayeda said. “So, I am pleased with the series victory and hope we can build on it.”

The first few games are always a feeling-out process.

“We want them to be comfortable,” Mayeda said. “We got here Friday, then turned around played our first game Saturday. We just want to keep them comfortable, find a groove, and get to playing well. Everyone has had an at bat. We’ve seen all our pitchers. We want to build on that.”

This is Mayeda’s third year coaching the Bee Jays, and that familiarity has taken some of the unknowns out of the process.

“There’s no growing pains in the early stages we may have had a couple years ago,” he said. “We have a great coaching staff and board member group. I am fortunate to be surrounded by plenty of helpful hands.”

But playing summer ball in Liberal comes with expectations.

“We try and make that known when they first step into Liberal,” Mayeda said. “We tell them the history, those who played here, the great support we have in town and with all the fans. We try and make them know that when they get here or before. They see the winning history. Hopefully we can find our stride and play winning baseball.”

And the process to become a national contender has already started.

“There were three different lineups the first three games,” Mayeda said. “We moved a lot of pitchers in a mix and match the first three games. With these being great ball players and great athletes, they are ready to go whenever their name is called. It is easy for me to put nine guys out there and make us look good. We will have a better idea as we continue to play and lock down more of a starting nine over the next few weeks.”

Liberal travels to Dodge City Thursday.

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