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Liberatore wins showdown of top Draft prospects

The lefty retires Gorman in each of his three at-bats
MLB.com

PHOENIX -- Matthew Liberatore reminisced on the good times he and best friend Nolan Gorman have shared over the years -- playing in Cooperstown as travel ball teammates, rooming together at almost every baseball event this past summer, competing in ping pong, video games and whiffle ball as kids.

"We've definitely had some good memories together," Liberatore said with a smile.

PHOENIX -- Matthew Liberatore reminisced on the good times he and best friend Nolan Gorman have shared over the years -- playing in Cooperstown as travel ball teammates, rooming together at almost every baseball event this past summer, competing in ping pong, video games and whiffle ball as kids.

"We've definitely had some good memories together," Liberatore said with a smile.

But on Thursday night at Grand Canyon University, they were competitors. The 6-foot-5 lefty Liberatore, the No. 3 Draft prospect in MLB Pipeline's Top 50, faced Gorman, the power-hitting third baseman who is ranked fourth on the list.

Mountain Ridge (Liberatore) defeated Sandra Day O'Connor (Gorman), 2-1. Liberatore was dominant, allowing just two hits while striking out 13 over 5 1/3 innings of one-run ball. He threw 105 pitches and was only pulled because of a pitch-count rule.

"His wipeout pitch is his off-speed, his curveball," Gorman said of Liberatore. "He likes to go after hitters with his fastball. He throws hard and he can beat high school hitters."

Video: Gorman talks facing his old friend Liberatore

Both Gorman and Liberatore estimated that Thursday marked just the fourth game they've spent in opposite dugouts. Gorman said they go back and forth whenever they face one another. He'll have a couple hits, then Liberatore will get the best of him a few times.

On this night, Liberatore won.

In three at-bats against Liberatore, Gorman flied out, struck out swinging and hit a grounder back to his best friend.

"I think just him stepping in the box, my focus automatically jumps up a little bit," Liberatore said. "I don't think it's lacking on other guys, but facing someone of that caliber definitely makes you focus a lot more and pushes me to be the best that I can be every single pitch."

Gorman thought he knew everything Liberatore would use to retire him, but there was something he couldn't have prepared for before his first at-bat of the evening.

A new pitch.

"It's a slider," Liberatore said. "I've been throwing it my last four or five outings and I happened to break it out against him tonight, which he's never seen before."

Added Gorman: "He threw me a couple. It's a slider, cutter. It does different things sometimes, so you know, it was a good pitch. It's a pitcher's pitch."

The two dueled on a big stage for a typical high school game: A college stadium with a sizeable crowd, scouts watching their every move.

All eyes were on them. They handled it well.

Now, they'll return to being best buds who make one another better. After all, they're basically in the same situation.

Both Liberatore and Gorman are committed to the University of Arizona, but because of how highly touted they are, it doesn't appear likely they'll take the college route after this year's Draft.

"It's nice off the field because we can hang out and [the Draft] doesn't have to be the topic of conversation," Liberatore said. "We can be two 17-and-18-year-olds and don't have to worry about that. It's also nice that we can bounce things off each other because we're both in that same situation."

Justin Toscano is an associate reporter for MLB.com.