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Liberty University continued its hunt to get inside the national Top 25, winning a three-game series with the visiting Gardner-Webb Bulldogs. Liberty took both Friday games, 4-3 and 8-0, respectively, but fell in Saturday’s finale, 5-4.
In the first game of the evening, the bats were quiet but the defense was solid. Liberty scored first at the bottom of the second with Alex Close coming in on a double hit by Trey Wimmer, but the Bulldogs answered in the third with a home run by John Harris that scored two RBIs and took the lead away from the Flames, making the score 3-1.
The Flames clawed for another run in the fourth when Michael Robertson came in on a hit by Close. The Bulldogs did not get anyone on base again until the top of the ninth when Harris was walked. The Flames bats where cold for three innings and it seemed as if the offense just could not get the break they needed. However, that all changed in the bottom of the second when Bryan Aanderud stepped up to the plate and cranked out his first homerun of the season directly over the 390 sign.
“I never know when I hit a homerun, because I don’t hit a lot of them,” Aanderud said. “I thought it was a line drive and I knew that they were playing me a little bit shallow, so I thought that I at least got a double out of it.”
John Niggli pitched for the Flames and finished all nine innings with two strikeouts, only allowing five hits.
Game Two of the evening was more energetic than the previous game and as the sun went down, the stands filled up. Twelve-hundred fans watched Liberty score its first run in the second inning with Close coming in off a double, this time hit by Dalton Sype.
The big event of the night happened in the third inning when bases were loaded and Alex Close hit his first collegiate grand slam. Liberty earned one more run before the close of the inning, giving them a six-run lead. The Flames scored two more times in the fourth off a sacrifice and an error. Patrick Eckelbarger was the key to Liberty’s defense. He pitched seven innings with five strike outs and allowed three hits.
“The first game our bats came out flat,” Close said. “Niggli made one mistake and the kid hit it out, but after the comeback I had a feeling that the bats were going to breakout. We came out and did not really give them a chance the second game. We went eighteen innings without an error and the guys up the middle are unbelievable.”
The Liberty Flames had their chances during Saturday’s series finale with the Gardner-Webb University Runnin’ Bulldogs.
However, too many missed opportunities kept the Flames from completing the sweep of the Runnin’ Bulldogs, causing them to lose 5-4.
After a few lead changes earlier in the game, the Flames found themselves down by a run with only two outs remaining. Senior Ian Parmley found his way on base with a single, but that glimmer of hope was quickly erased when junior Andy Smith grounded into a game-ending double play.
“From about the fifth inning on everyone was up, getting into it,” Parmley said. “It just didn’t go our way at the end.”
The Flames stranded seven people on base, including in the eighth when the bases were loaded.
“When the energy was up we scored runs,” Wimmer said. “We had chances to score runs. We didn’t get the big hit when we needed it. We just didn’t play our best.”
Freshman relief pitcher Carson Herndon gave up two singles and a walk in the eighth inning before exiting the game. Those runners would later score, giving the Runnin’ Bulldogs the lead for good.
Senior starting pitcher Jacob Kemmerer earned a no-decision despite giving up only two runs in a little over four innings pitched.
Although it was a close game, the Runnin’ Bulldogs outhit the Flames 14 to 4.
The Flames will get their chance to tune up their offense at home this Tuesday at 6 p.m. against the Virginia Commonwealth University Rams.