Written by Corbett Smith
Frisco Liberty baseball making historic run; senior Hayden Parker: 'I thought we might have a good team, but I never expected us to go this far'
Team is one series win from reaching state finals for first time
FRISCO — One of the hardest things for a coach to do is bide time.
But that’s what Frisco Liberty coach Scott McGarrh has done for seven seasons now, waiting for talent to matriculate and the hard work of his players to pay off.
Both have borne fruit in the 2013 playoffs. In its first postseason since McGarrh started the program in 2006, Liberty (26-10-2) is a series win away from a trip to the UIL state baseball tournament in Round Rock. Liberty faces Whitehouse (29-8) at 7 p.m. Friday in Allen, the start of a three-game series in the Class 4A Region II finals.
“I expected to be here earlier, but I kind of knew — after the first few years — where my talent was,” McGarrh said. “And at the time, it was sixth and seventh grade. We had an estimation of where we could be.
“But this, it’s cool. It rewards us by showing, ‘Hey, we are doing things the right way.’”
McGarrh knew it would be a building process coming to Liberty as part of a group of coaches who followed Hebron assistant Joe McBride to Frisco ISD’s newest high school.
While recent Liberty teams have had talent — such as John VanGelder and Dan Simpson, older brothers of two of the current squad’s standouts, unanimous first-team 9-4A selections sophomore infielder J.T. VanGelder and junior outfielder Brian Simpson — McGarrh said there just weren’t enough players to compete with established programs like Frisco Wakeland, McKinney and McKinney North.
Last season, Liberty narrowly missed making the playoffs, needing to beat Frisco in the season finale to qualify. Liberty led by six runs heading into the sixth inning, but Frisco clawed back for a 12-11 win.
“That was frustrating to be so close to making history and not get there,” senior Hayden Parker said. “This year, we’ve been able to get over that hump.”
Liberty’s lineup is predicated on balance. Five players have 20 or more RBIs, seven have 10 or more stolen bases, and all four starters with over 40 innings have ERAs under 3.00.
“We’ve got 12 or 13 different guys who can come out and play,” Simpson said. “If one person’s not having a good game, the other teammates will pick him up.”
Parker, a BYU signee, is part of an influential group of six seniors that McGarrh credited for pushing the rest of their teammates in the off-season, which in turn established a newfound resilience: catcher and UTSA signee Jacob Columbo, first baseman Trey Johnson, starting pitcher Dan Hawk and reserves Connor Case and Patrick Elwood.
In the bi-district round against Forney, Liberty fumbled away a five-run lead in a Game 1 loss, but came back with two 4-3 wins to take the series, with VanGelder hitting a walk-off RBI single in Game 3.
“I thought we might have a good team, but I never expected us to go this far,” Parker said. “Coach always said, ‘Just get in and we’ll see what happens.’ We’ve really stuck to that. And this has happened.”
Follow Corbett Smith on Twitter at @corbettsmithDMN