Senior left-hander Kevin Lave throws a three-hitter and knocks in the only run in a 1-0 win over Wilsonville

Kevin Lave found a way to get it done on both sides of the ball.

In a game in which offense was at a premium, Lave threw a complete-game three-hitter on Tuesday and also accounted for the winning run in a pivotal 1-0 home victory against Wilsonville.

“I was able to get ahead of batters early with my fastball and set them up for my off-speed,” the senior southpaw said about his pitching performance. “Keeping it low was definitely key.”

Lave brought in the winning run against the Wildcats in the first inning. Zach Chitwood led off with a double, and Kevin Rose’s grounder moved him to third. Then, Lave knocked a 3-0 fastball into the outfield for an RBI sacrifice fly, scoring Chitwood for what would turn out to be the only run of the game.

And then Lave made that run hold up.

The tight win left Liberty coach Jackson Gillett feeling relieved.

“I’m glad to win any of them,” Gillett said. “We’re the most Jekyll and Hyde team I’ve seen. We can face the best teams in the state and beat them, and we can face really poor teams and lose. And Wilsonville’s a very good team. Their record doesn’t reflect how good of a team they are.”

The win upped the Falcons’ record to 11-5 overall and 5-2 in Northwest Oregon Conference play, placing the squad in a tie for second place with Sandy heading into Wednesday. Wilsonville dropped to 7-9 overall, 4-3 in the conference.

Gillett went into the game thinking the Wildcats were going to throw their ace, Clayton Gelfand, who was a Class 5A Second Team All-State pitcher in 2012. Instead, Wilsonville opted for Jake Jennings, who was up to the task for a pitchers’ duel with Lave. Jennings went the distance as well in a two-hit performance, striking out seven.

“The kid they threw (Tuesday) was awesome,” Gillett said.

But the Falcons were collectively able to overcome that effort and begin a pivotal two-week stretch of games that will influence the conference race on the right foot. They were scheduled to play at Wilsonville on Wednesday (after press deadline) and are slated wrap up the three-game series at home today.

Next week, Liberty plays Sherwood on Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday. The Bowmen were an NWOC-leading 6-1 heading into Wednesday.

“It was a big game to win ... just to get us ahead, give us that booster coming into the next two games against this good team,” Lave noted.

In addition to Chitwood’s double, Tyler Parker led off the second inning with a single, but that was it in terms of hits off of Jennings.

But Lave was up to the task, throwing his third complete game of the season. Against the Wildcats, his statistics were not gaudy — in addition to those three hits, he had three walks and four strikeouts. But Lave, who Gillett says has a top speed of about 80 miles per hour, did what he does well and the team backed him up.

The squad “just played really good defense behind him. He got a lot of ground balls, a lot of weak fly outs,” Gillett recalled. “I think when they face Kevin, guys don’t think he throws hard, so they think they can all just tee off him. But he’s so much smarter and just outfoxes everybody, so he gets them to swing at bad pitches.

“And they do, because he nibbles on the outside corner and he does a good job.”

Lave, who sported a 1.80 ERA going into Tuesday’s contest and has now given up just 20 hits and 13 runs in 32 innings, is part of a standout three-man pitching rotation for the Falcons. Dakota Drake, who was expected to get the start on Wednesday, entered that game with a 1.95 ERA and had allowed only 10 runs in 27.2 innings. And sophomore Ryan Kaser has 40 strikeouts and a 2.16 ERA through 25 innings of work.

“Drake and Lave, they’re two solid senior pitchers that know the game of baseball,” Gillett said. “They’re not throwers, they’re pitchers. And then Ryan Kaser ... people think they’re getting a break with him. They turn around, and he mows them down and he blows them away.”

Along with Jason Sandwisch, Lave, Drake and Chitwood are all three-year varsity starters. Chitwood is deciding between several community colleges to continue his baseball career, Gillett said, while Drake has earned a scholarship to Colorado State University-Pueblo.

As for Lave, he is basically a deposit away from attending Chapman University, an NCAA Division III school in Orange, Calif., near Anaheim.

Lave, who said he mainly has been getting interest from Division III programs, attended a prospects camp at Chapman this past fall and liked the school and his experience there. Gillett said Lave has a 3.8 GPA and is involved in leadership at Liberty.

“He’s what a high school kid should be,” he said.

And before college in California beckons, he still has some business to complete at the high school level.

“Our goal this year was to win league,” Lave said of he and his teammates. “We’re still shooting for that goal, and if we stay on track like we are, we’re going to meet that goal and definitely make a good run for the playoffs.”

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