Liberatore provides boost for Greensburg Central Catholic baseball
Coming off a loss in the WPIAL Class A baseball championship, Greensburg Central Catholic was looking for a boost heading into the state tournament.
The Centurions received it with the return of senior Jack Liberatore. The Ohio University recruit was sidelined with an ankle injury suffered in an April 19 win at West Greene. Though not 100 percent healthy, he has served as GCC's designated hitter in its first two PIAA tournament wins. He is slated to do so again Monday when the Centurions (14-5) meet Clarion (20-5) at North Allegheny at 3 p.m.
“It feels great to be back. I only played five games and got hurt, so being back feels great,” Liberatore said. “So far, I am just hitting. I am not cleared to do much lateral movement. Any way I can contribute to help the team out is fine with me, whether that's just being on the bench cheering or getting a big hit.”
Liberatore's loss was a big one. One of two returning starters from last year's WPIAL runner-up, he is one of the Centurions' top hitters and was expected to be part of one of the area's top pitching duos with classmate Neal McDermott.
“Just losing a player of that caliber was big. We had to switch a lot of things around,” GCC coach Dennis Reist said. “In addition to pitching, Jack was our starting shortstop and a .500 hitter. It has forced other guys to step up. The younger guys worked their butts off to pick up that slack. It was rough, at first. In the long haul, it's really benefited us now. These young kids have gotten a lot of experience because of that injury and are contributing. So, it's not like we're hurting, but getting Jack back is a big boost.”
It was tough for Liberatore to stand by and watch his team make it back to the WPIAL title game. He contributed however he could.
“I think not playing was hurting him more than the injury,” Reist said. “He remained a really great teammate, and his help with the younger pitchers and guys is tremendous. I had been calling him a coach the last couple weeks.”
Liberatore didn't let the injury frustrate him,
“I just try to keep a positive mindset about everything and try to help out however I can. I try to keep it upbeat in the dugout and have some fun,” he said. “We're hot right now, and we want to keep it rolling.”
If the Centurions advance to Thursday's state title game, there is an outside chance Liberatore could receive clearance to pitch. Though he might not be full strength on the mound, he could complement Antonio Cavallo and McDermott.
“Neal will pitch Monday. With the way Antonio is pitching now, he is keeping a lot of teams off-balance. Who knows? Maybe we'd need Jack for an inning or one batter,” Reist said. “He has to be ready, though. He's a young man with a college career ahead of him, and we don't want to screw that up. For us right now, though, there's one game left, and that's all we're focused on.”
Liberatore, who heads to Ohio on June 23 for the start of class, wants to make the most out of his high school career.
“We have a lot of young guys out there making big-time plays. There are a bunch of kids through the infield who have stepped up. We're swinging the bat well and feeling good,” he said. “All we can do is control what we can and do what we can, and everything will fall in place.”
Latrobe on a roll
The Wildcats (22-2) have won 14 games in a row and hope to continue that streak Monday against Springfield (20-7) in a Class 5A semifinal at Green Twp. Park in Scotland.
Latrobe posted a pair of one-run, comeback wins in the WPIAL tournament �before it beat Mars, 6-2 for the title. The Wildcats rallied for a 5-4 win in their PIAA opener, and beat West Allegheny, 9-4, on Thursday to reach the semifinals for the first time since 1985.
Latrobe outfielder Zach Kokoska is the Pennsylvania Gatorade Player of the Year and a Virginia Tech recruit. Jared Kollar earned the pitching win for the Wildcats, while Kokoska closed out the victory.
Tom Quinn (.321), Brandon DiChiacchio (.315) and Andrew Paulus (.314) pace the Cougars. DiChiacchio had two hits and scored the winning run in a 1-0 victory over Cedar Cliff in 10 innings Thursday.
Joe Sager is a freelance writer.