The Phil Collins lyrics “I’ve been waiting for this moment for all my life,” from the 1981 hit “In the Air Tonight” would provide a dramatic effect.
Liberty coach Phillip Hawke would rather see his team focus on hitting the baseball in its District 7-4A opener at Plaquemine High. The 6:30 p.m. Tuesday game is the first varsity district game for the Patriots.
To be fair, the Liberty players have not waited a lifetime … just two-plus years that may seem longer, particularly when you factor in the 2020 pandemic.
“I am very excited about this game,” Liberty’s Kaleb Gibson said. “When we started out two years ago, I wasn’t sure we would have an opportunity like this. But we’ve been improving, growing and getting better every year.
“Our biggest area of improvement since last year has been defense. We’ve gotten more consistent at making the simple plays. I’ve played in a lot of games and tournaments. This is not like a payoff game. But it is a chance to see where we stand.”
In some ways, the game is a microcosm of 4A baseball in the Baton Rouge area. Teams in two Class 5A powerhouse districts and a strong 3A district often overshadow the 4A group.
Plaquemine (12-8) sits at No. 17 in the LHSAA’s most recent Class 4A power ratings. Liberty (13-3) is No. 6 among Division II select teams after spending two years on the JV level as Hawke, a former Woodlawn High and UL star, built the program from scratch. Hawke spent six years as an assistant at Parkview Baptist and four at Episcopal.
Plenty of coaches talk about thinking outside the box. Hawke built his program from a box of materials he was handed.
“When I came in, the program was just a box in a corner and to see where we are just two years later is amazing,” Hawke said. “We’re off to a great start with a great bunch of guys who have really bought into everything we’ve asked of them.
"Now they have the chance to compete for a district title. That is next step ... it’s a big one. We are not one of the elite programs in Baton Rouge. What we want to do is build is a consistent winner and hopefully get to that point.”
Hawke's Patriots are built on speed. They have a team batting average of .348 and a 187 stolen bases in 16 games. Hawke says the junior-laden Patriots will run until opponents find a way to stop them.
Jordan Smith is hitting .571 to lead Liberty. Shortstop Cobe Beamon is batting. 457 and has 32 stolen bases. Gibson is 4-1 on the mound.
“We just want to go out there and compete,” Beamon said. “We can’t go out there nervous. We have to play the game. We’ve played different kinds of teams this year, and I think we will be ready.”
Liberty has played a variety of opponents with contrasting results. The Patriots have scored 10 or more runs in 13 games. They also lost 11-1 to Class 2A power Doyle last week and 12-2 to 5A Thibodaux. The other loss was 14-6 to Class B University Academy of Cenla.
“The schedule was set up to allow them (Liberty players) to have success, but to also see different kinds of competition,” Hawke said. “In Division II, we will make the playoffs and will meet somebody good.
“It is important that we see quality teams like Plaquemine as the second half of this season continues. Coach (Tait) Dupont is a fiery guy, and his teams are very well-coached and play hard. This is the kind of test we need.”