Danny Kirchner had his doubts about his Olentangy Liberty High School baseball team making a comeback, but those were dashed with one swing of the bat.
Kirchner connected for a three-run home run in the seventh inning, and the Patriots erased a four-run deficit before defeating host Thomas Worthington 6-5 in eight innings May 9 in an OCC-Central Division game.
The victory gave Liberty its second outright league title, the first coming in 2005. It shared OCC-Cardinal titles in 2009 and 2010.
The Patriots trailed Thomas 5-1 after four innings.
"We knew what we had to do, but we knew it wasn't going to be easy (to come back)," said Kirchner, whose team wore GussStrong T-shirts under their jerseys in support of former Thomas coach Stephen Gussler's battle with cancer. "We were able to handle it well and fight through it.
"I got a fastball inside (on the game-tying homer) and connected. I knew it was gone right off the bat."
Matt Matthaes doubled home Justice Griebel in the eighth to give the Patriots their first lead of the game.
"We had a chance to win (the league) last year, and didn't get it done," said Matthaes, who also had a triple against the Cardinals. "That stuck with us. We worked hard. ... We worked together to get here. We knew as seniors it was our last chance."
Nick Newton entered in the fourth in relief of starter Mitchell Griffiths and baffled hitters with his sidearm delivery. In five hitless innings, he struck out 10 and walked three.
"I just came in and tried to get outs," Newton said. "My slider was working well and I mixed in some fastballs. ... We just wanted to win the title without sharing it."
Liberty finished 12-2 in the OCC-Central, ahead of runners-up Thomas and Upper Arlington at 10-4.
The Patriots clinched at least a share of the title with a 13-3, five-inning win over Hilliard Davidson on May 8. Cameron Comer tripled and singled to drive in two runs and scored twice.
Kirchner had three singles and drove in three, and Steven Meegan had a two-run triple. Jacob Niggemeyer singled twice and had two RBI, and Matthaes also had two singles.
"(Winning the league title) is something we have all been looking forward to," Comer said. "It's great to see that all of our hard work has paid off."
Niggemeyer had a solo homer against Thomas on May 9 and tossed a five-hitter with five strikeouts in a 10-0, five-inning win over the Cardinals on May 7.
"I can't explain what it means to win the league," Niggemeyer said. "We worked so hard and to clinch it like we did (at Thomas) was special. This gives us a lot of confidence heading into the postseason."
The Patriots were seeded second in the Division I district tournament behind Thomas. Liberty had a first-round bye and opened May 14 against 36th-seeded Chillicothe.
The winner plays 17th-seeded Delaware, 24th-seeded Pickerington Central or 42nd-seeded Logan in a district semifinal Monday, May 19, at Worthington Kilbourne. The Patriots lost to Delaware 10-3 on April 18.
The semifinal winner advances to a district final Wednesday, May 21, at Ohio Dominican against eighth-seeded Mount Vernon, 15th-seeded Olentangy, 21st-seeded Dresden Tri-Valley, 22nd-seeded Dublin Coffman or 26th-seeded Hamilton Township. Liberty defeated Coffman 3-0 on May 2 and 4-3 in eight innings May 5, and beat Olentangy 5-4 in nine innings April 4.
"This is something special," coach Ty Brenning said. "This isn't from the work from the past year, but these seniors have put in three hard years of work and it's paid off for them."