This morning, Liberty Christian head coach Johnny Isom will trot his baseball team onto the field at a foreign time, at a place that’s all too familiar for the Warriors.
For the fourth straight season, Liberty finds itself one game away from the TAPPS Class 5A state championship game.
For the past three years, the Warriors have finished their season without getting a shot at the state’s ultimate prize. Today, at 10 a.m., they have an opportunity to change that.
Liberty (25-9) takes on Plano Prestonwood (29-5) this morning at Waco ISD Athletic Complex in the TAPPS 5A state semifinals. The winner of the game will face either Houston St. Thomas or Houston St. Pius X at 10 a.m. Tuesday at Mary-Hardin Baylor in Belton.
Isom pointed out the good and the bad of the team’s four-year streak to the state tournament.
“We’ve felt blessed to be in the last four,” Isom said. “It takes a lot of hard work to get to that, but I think the kids are ready to move past it.”
This year, the team theme Isom is preaching to his team is to get to Tuesday for another 10 a.m. game — which, with today’s game, would make for the two earliest start times the Warriors have had all season.
Liberty finished first in District 1-5A with Prestonwood finishing behind the Warriors.
The championship game is something Liberty has experienced in the past. The Warriors have won two state championships — the most recent in 2009, when the school was in Class 4A.
Senior outfielder Carson Dowdle and senior second baseman Foster Ford, who’s headed to Western Oklahoma State College, have seen the previous three state semifinals defeats firsthand.
Last season, the Warriors failed to avenge a loss against St. Thomas’ Eagles, who had also bounced Liberty out of the playoffs in 2011.
Dowdle, who’s headed to Central Arkansas next year, said the team’s attitude this season is far different from last year. Dowdle said he’s enjoyed the opportunity to reach the state tournament in his four years on the team, and he’s hoping the team can translate its success from earlier in the season into today’s game.
“I think that this year, we have that mindset that we’re supposed to win it, that this is our year,” Dowdle said. “So definitely, we’re ready to finally get over the hump.”
Last week’s victory in the state quarterfinals helped cement that feeling that something may be different this season.
The Warriors trailed Tomball Concordia by two runs in the sixth inning before they exploded for five runs and pulled off a 7-3 comeback victory. Dowdle hit a double and Ford homered to help give Liberty a momentum-building victory.
“I think it allows your kids to know that regardless of what happens, you need to keep playing and you have the ability to come back and win if you get down early and your kids don’t freak out, which is definitely something that can happen,” Isom said.
Isom will send junior Connor McMann, who has a record of 7-1, to the mound for today’s game. But to ensure the team is playing on Tuesday, Isom said he won’t hesitate to send whoever is needed, including Abilene Christian-bound pitcher Alex Dowdy.
Dowdle, one of the 13 seniors scattered throughout Liberty’s roster, is searching for an opportunity to win another state medal within a span of four days.
On Saturday, he picked up a gold medal in the 100-meter dash at the TAPPS Class 5A state track and field championships, to go along with the team’s overall state championship.
If the Warriors can make it through today, Dowdle will be one step closer to adding to his growing neckwear collection and Liberty one step closer to its third state baseball title.
“Two state championships in less than a week, it’d be great,” Dowdle said. “It’d be awesome.”
BEN BABY can be reached at 940-566-6869 and via Twitter at @Ben_Baby.