CLARKSBURG -- Early this prep baseball season, Liberty was struggling to stay above .500 with a 7-6 mark after a disappointing loss to previously winless Philip Barbour.
Fifteen games later, the Mountaineers (19-9) will play Thursday for a spot in the Class AA state championship game.
No. 8 Liberty faces No. 9 Wayne (20-12) in the semifinals during Thursday evening's session 30 minutes after the first Class AA semifinal contest between Winfield (28-6) and Summers County (15-13).
Andrew Knight, who will start on the mound for Liberty on Thursday, said his team's slow start had everything to do with scheduling.
"Well, coach (Pete) Iquinto gets
us a tough schedule to start the season. It helps us improve as the year goes on," Knight said.
Strong pitching and defense carried Liberty through the regular season while its hitting has responded during the postseason.
"At the end of year, we finally stepped it up on offense," Liberty senior first baseman Marcus Bramer said. "We gained some confidence and kept it going."
In its last three contests, Liberty has pounded 34 hits and is improving with each game.
In the sectional title contest against Ritchie County, Liberty had eight hits and added 10 against Bridgeport in the regional semifinals. The Mountaineers collected 16 against Frankfort in the regional final.
"When we looked at the team at the beginning of the season, we knew we had a veteran team," Liberty coach Pete Iquinto said. "But we weren't hitting on all cylinders early in the season."
The wet spring may have played a role in the Mountaineers slow start, according to Iquinto.
"Baseball is a game of repetition, and you have to go out and play every day," he said. "In an ideal world, we would like to play 50 games, but when you're only playing two or three games a week, it's tough.
"Playing eight to 10 games in a row is what makes your club."
Bramer said the hot streak also may have been unexpected by others, but the Mountaineers have been focused on one thing since early in the season -- a state title.
On Thursday, they could move one step closer.
Assistant sports editor Danny Carpenter can be reached at 626-1444 or by e-mail at email@example.com.