For eight years, the Liberty baseball pitching staff has been led by the Schiefelbein family.
This year, after two seasons of false starts, that is true on the mound as well as during practice and pitching changes.
Entering the 6A playoffs May 8 senior Kaden Schiefelbein, son of pitching coach Mike Schiefelbein, had a 5-1 record and 0.84 ERA with 52 strikeouts in 33 1/3 innings as the Lions’ No. 1 starter. To Liberty Coach Chris Raymond, this family’s contributions to the program go far beyond the numbers.
“It’s a special father-son thing, Mike’s been a rock on our staff,” Raymond said. “I think the inspiring part about both of them is I have a son, and I see the young man (Kaden) is and the father Mike is. There’s gotta be more of that in this world — more people concentrating on that. They raised a phenomenal young man who’s a great athlete but he’s an even better person. I’m glad they’re with us.”
Kaden Schiefelbein secured the Lions' 16th straight win in the May 8 playoff opener against #15 Chandler, getting the save by striking out the side in the seventh inning of a 4-3 win.
He should be set to start the #2 Lions' home state quarterfinal against #7 Scottsdale Chaparral (12-7) at 4 p.m. Tuesday. Either way he will have finished his Liberty career within the next eight days.
In April 2020 Kaden committed to play for Washington State University. He said he is excited to get to the Pac-12 school and play for coach Brian Green, who will be in his third season leading the Cougars next year.
“It’s a great college town and obviously has colder weather, which is going to be nice to get out of the heat. I heard their coaching staff has made improvements after arriving from New Mexico State. They bring the same intensity and love for the game that I’ve learned under coach Raymond,” Schiefelbein said.
Both he and his father savored this chance to be player-coach one last time.
Mike Schiefelbein said after 2020, it has been great to have a season this spring.
“As Kaden’s high school comes to an end I have just tried to focus on enjoying this last year and best preparing him and the rest of our senior pitchers for college,” Mike Schiefelbein stated in a Twitter interview. “Kaden has become a student of the game and our conversations around pitching have evolved from foundational instruction when he was younger to more fine tuning now, be it slight mechanical adjustments or altering a pitch grip or setting up a hitter.”
Mike pitched for the University of Arizona, for Team USA in the Junior Olympics and in the minor leagues in the mid-1990s.
Despite this family background Kaden Schiefelbein did not grow up as a baseball automaton in Mike and Tiffany Schiefelbein’s house. He played basketball, baseball and football growing up.
Kaden said he realized baseball was his sport entering high school. He said he saw his father’s love for baseball and admired it.
But he only gave up football for time reasons at Liberty. Kaden stuck with basketball all four years and got to play on the Lions’ first 6A region champions and experience their playoff win over defending 6A champion Phoenix Desert Vista.
“I think that’s kind of a lost art. A lot of people specialize early. It helps eliminate burnout when you do other things and use different muscle groups and compete in different ways,” Schiefelbein said.
He teamed with Patrick Steitz on the court and, ironically, the duo was best known on the North Peoria campus for their hoops heroics. Then the baseball season began.
Schiefelbein and Steitz have formed one of the state’s top pitching duos, and are one of the main reasons the Lions entered the 6A playoffs as a top three seed. It has been their only chance to shine in varsity baseball, as the coronavirus wiped out most of their junior season and they barely played as sophomores — for vastly different reasons.
Removal of a benign tumor in his ankle pushed back the start of Kaden Schiefelbein’s sophomore season, costing him half the year and limiting his role to 10 plate appearances and 2 1/3 innings pitched in 2019.
“Going into my junior year I knew if I pitched like I was capable of, I’d have an opportunity to try to win some games for us,” Schiefelbein said.
Mike Schiefelbein said he has coached travel baseball in Arizona since Kaden was 8 years old and many of the Liberty seniors grew up playing on his team or opposing teams. For example, Andrew Biddle has played for him since Schiefelbein was 9.
“To watch these players grow and develop over the last 9-10 years, as baseball players and young men, has been special. These guys (and their parents) have dedicated a lot of time effort to becoming the players they are today. It’s great to see them enjoying their success this season as a result,” Mike Schiefelbein said.
As freshmen, the Class of 2021 watched the 2018 team win the 5A state title. Now the 14 seniors have a legitimate shot of doing the same in 6A.
Following a 2-3 start, the Lions entered the playoffs with a 15-game winning streak. Kaden Schiefelbein said this is a complete team now, with little ego and drive to play together.
“We have a senior class that’s been really close since freshman year. Being that, we have a selfless love for each other. That shows in how we play,” Kaden Schiefelbein said.
The ace pitcher also helps off the mound, as one of the team’s top hitters with a .383 average, four home runs and 17 RBI in the regular season.
Raymond said Schiefelbein also is a tone setter.
“He’s a phenomenal young man. I can’t tell you on a scale of 1-10 how proud I am of him. It’s like a 13. He’s a young man based in faith. He leads by example on top of being a speaking leader. The biggest thing is he’s selfless. He’s a joy to be around and infectious with his positivity,” Raymond said.
After several stops and starts at Liberty, Kaden Schiefelbein said he is thankful to have this sort of senior year — particularly in his final chance to pitch for his dad’s team.
“I have the same amount of respect for him that I did playing in youth ball. He’s way ahead of me and understands a lot more. I’ve taken the same approach in respecting him. It’s fun because he understands how I pitch hitters and I feel like we’re on the same page a lot,” Schiefelbein said of his father. “This last high school year has really been a blessing.”
Kaden said he is thinking about majoring in pre-med at Washington State but not sure yet.
Mike Schiefelbein said Kaden did not pitch much when he was younger. This was less about protecting his arm and more about skill development — and how much he enjoyed playing the infield and hitting.
The former Pac-10 pitcher believes his son’s best is yet to come in his old conference.
“He has worked extremely hard the last few years to develop as a pitcher, both on the field and in the weight room. While Kaden has had a very good senior year on the mound thus far, I think he is just beginning to hit his stride and will keep progressing in years to come,” Mike Schiefelbein said.