Top MLB Draft prospects on collision course in Arizona high school playoffs

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Matt Liberatore and Nolan Gorman Matt Liberatore and Nolan Gorman
Mountain Ridge pitcher Matt Liberatore is trying to lead his team to a state championship. Mountain Ridge pitcher Matt Liberatore is trying to lead his team to a state championship.
Sandra Day O'Connor third baseman Nolan Gorman is top ten MLB Draft prospect. Sandra Day O'Connor third baseman Nolan Gorman is top ten MLB Draft prospect.

Eyes from all over the world will be on the Arizona 6A baseball playoffs this weekend. Two of the projected top ten picks in the Major League Baseball Draft are on a collision course to meet in the 6A championship game.

Mountain Ridge faces Mountain View on Friday night at Diablo Stadium at 6:30. Pitcher Matt Liberatore will try to help lead Mountain Ridge to the state championship game. Liberatore is 6'5" and armed with a 95-mile-an-hour fastball. He's also on every pro scout's radar.

“My favorite is Aroldis Chapman,” said Liberatore, when asked about which MLB pitcher he likes to watch. “The intensity he brings to the game, and the way he mentally destroys guys before they get in the box. Then Max Scherzer, Marcus Stroman... just the emotion they bring to the game.”

On the other side of the bracket sits Sandra Day O’Connor. Third baseman Nolan Gorman’s power is becoming the stuff of Arizona legend. Gorman crushed a 459-foot home run in the MLB All-Star Game in Miami last summer and hit 18 home runs in batting practice. He’s also named after a Hall of Famer, Nolan Ryan.

“I haven’t met him but I have a whole bunch of things signed by him,” says Gorman, who was born seven years after Nolan Ryan retired. “I wrote him in fourth grade for a project and he sent a card back, his seventh no-hitter card.”

Despite being competitors, Gorman and Liberatore are the best of friends. They first met while playing on the same team, at five years old. 

“It started when we were like 4 or 5. We were on the same te ball team, or coach pitch team, or whatever it was,” says Gorman. “Our parents became good friends. Playing on the same team helped. We just stayed along the whole way. We used to be with each other every day of the summer.”

“He could swing it, and I could throw it,” says Liberatore as he reflects on the journey from tee ball to being a top draft prospect. "I think that’s something that every kid talks about when they're 5, 6, 7, 8 years old. I don't think we started realizing it until we got into high school and started playing some of the high profile events, and got invited to showcases. I think that’s when we started to realize this might actually be real and we were just crazy kids talking about it."

The two have faced each other four times in high school. Matt first hit 90 miles an hour his sophomore year, while facing Nolan.

“I was sitting upper 80s all game,” says Liberatore. “Nolan stepped in the box and I threw it under his chin and it was 91. After, I talked to my dad.  He had talked to a scout and said I touched 90.”

Earlier this season Liberatore got Gorman to fly out in a game played by their high schools at Grand Canyon University.  All the meetings have been exciting, but nothing would be quite like a meeting in the title game.  

“It's exciting, kind of just seeing him out on the mound. Just seeing the crowd, everything just stops. Everybody stops and watches the whole thing. We have a lot of fun with it,” says Gorman about his meeting with his friend. “I don't even think either of us really knew that this could possibly be a thing.  We didn't know the whole process or how it happens.  Now that it's here really fun."

Liberatore and Gorman spent almost all last summer together as roommates for USA Baseball. There are no secrets between the two when Gorman gets in the batter’s box, a moment that will likely be discussed over a post-game dinner. Tuesday night could be one of the most memorable moments in Arizona high school baseball history if it all lines up.

“We gotta get there first,” says Gorman. “That would just be insane. When we faced each other at GCU, there were 1000 people.  I think state championship would just be incredible.”

O’Connor is the seven seed and Mountain Ridge is the fifth seed. O’Connor faces Skyline in the semifinals at 4 p.m. at Tempe Diablo Stadium. Mountain Ridge and top-seeded Mountain View square off in the nightcap at 6:30. If Gorman and Liberatore’s team wins on Friday, it will punch their ticket to the state title game on Tuesday in Tempe at 7 p.m.

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