Seattle pitching coach Josh Berry needed a veteran pitcher to keep the Studs alive in the National Baseball Congress World Series. The choice was obvious: himself.
Liberal never solved the Seattle left-hander, who graduated from college in 1999 and beat the BeeJays 5-0 with seven shutout innings in a quarterfinal game Wednesday night. Liberal was the last remaining undefeated team. Todays semifinals will feature four teams with one loss: Seattle, Liberal, the Denver Cougars and the winner of Wednesday's late game between Santa Barbara (Calif.) and Haysville.
"I just threw fastballs," Berry said. "I threw fastballs and they couldn't seem to get on one. In the bullpen, my off-speed was a little sketchy. So I was thinking I was going to be throwing a lot of fastballs. They didn't hit it, so I was going to stick with something that works."
The BeeJays hadn't been held to fewer than seven runs during their 5-0 start in the tournament. They had a chance to break it open early, when Seattle miscues loaded the bases with two outs.
Seattle third baseman Kyle Boe made an error before Berry hit the next two batters. He wasted no time with Sam Konoff, though, striking him out looking on three pitches. Berry didn't face a threat that serious again.
"Mentally, I'm a very strong pitcher," Berry said. "I'm older than these guys and I've been playing this game for a long, long time. This is fun."
Liberal coach John Martin played small ball in an effort to get the offense going.
The BeeJays were without a hit through the first three innings, though they had four baserunners. In the fourth, Marc Gomez led off with a single. Konoff attempted to bunt, but after failing twice he also singled, moving Gomez to second.
When Richard Bohlken couldn't execute a sacrifice, the play wasn't called off with two strikes. His third attempt resulted in a foul-ball strikeout, and Liberal's No. 8 and 9 hitters couldn't produce a run.
"I thought maybe if we got one, we'd find a way to get two or three," Liberal coach John Martin said. "We had first and second nobody out and couldn't get bunts down. Little things like that bite you in the butt."
The BeeJays' defense also provided pain, as Seattle scored two runs in the third with help from two errors. A pickoff throw was wild and left fielder Nick Cocking mishandled a grounder, allowing a run to score before Boe drove in another with a single.
Seattle added three insurance runs in the fifth, getting an RBI single from Kyle Boe and a two-run double from Dan Ward, who was thrown out trying to stretch it to a triple.
Berry's performance enabled the lead to stand. He stuck with fastballs, but threw enough off-speed pitches to keep Liberal hitters guessing at times.
"We just didn't make an adjustment," Martin said. "Having the bases loaded in the first inning and we struck out looking, that kind of set the tone. That's how it was all night."
Berry, the eldest of Seattle's 11 pitchers, also wanted to set a tone. His shaky start can be overlooked thanks to the final seven innings of his dominant outing.
"I kind of felt like I needed to come out and show these guys that I'm a pitching coach for a reason and I've been doing this for a long time successfully."
Liberal will no longer have to be beaten twice in Friday's championship round to lose the championship, but the BeeJays remain confident being one of the pack.
"That's the thing about baseball, you can come back tomorrow and play again," Martin said. "We just have to find a way to win two games and we win the whole thing. We just have to find a way to win (today) and get to Friday."