Flames outhit No. 5 South Carolina 20-17, but drop weather delayed series 2-1
The Liberty Flames baseball team kicked off their new season in dramatic fashion with a 4-3 loss against the No. 5 South Carolina Gamecocks Friday, Feb. 15.
The Gamecocks, national champions in 2010 and 2011, jumped out to a two-run lead and held the Flames scoreless through the first seven innings before allowing a three-run rally in the eighth inning. Despite outhitting the Gamecocks 8-5, the Flames left 14 runners on base, which proved too much to overcome.
“We did well with getting guys on base, obviously,” Liberty center fielder Ryan Cordell said. “You win games with two outs and runners in scoring position, and we weren’t able to do it today.”
Gamecocks starting pitcher Jordan Montgomery faced multiple Flames scoring chances throughout his six innings on the mound, each time escaping unscathed. The Flames finally scored their first runs of the season with a two-run double by Cordell in the eighth inning and an RBI groundout by Bryan Aanderud, but it turned out to be too little, too late.
“I told our guys that I’m proud of them, other than the bases loaded situations where we didn’t drive them in,” Liberty Head Coach Jim Toman said. “It was 4-3 against a team that’s won more games in the last three years than any team in the country.”
Flames starting pitcher Carson Herndon turned in five solid innings of work, allowing only a solo home run in the second inning. After his exit, the Liberty bullpen surrendered three more runs.
“We were just trying to get (pitchers) out there, use as many as we can and get guys out,” Toman said. “It’s good experience early in the year to see what they’re going to do and how they’re going to react.”
Played at Carolina Stadium in Columbia, S.C., the game began with a ceremony honoring former Gamecocks Head Coach Ray Tanner, a mentor to Toman during their time at South Carolina and North Carolina State Universities.
“I’ve known him a long time, and he’s a good friend,” Toman said. “He deserved everything he got today, and I thought (that) it was a great deal that South Carolina honored him in that way.”
Tanner, the school’s current athletic director, watched as his jersey was retired, and former players recounted their favorite memories of their coach in videos played between innings.
Rain forced Saturday’s rematch between the two teams to be rescheduled, resulting in a Sunday doubleheader.
The Flames bullpen woes continued in the second game of the series Sunday afternoon. Liberty’s offense exploded for six runs in the sixth inning, only to see the 7-0 lead vanish in the ninth inning of an 8-7 loss.
Senior starting pitcher Brooks Roy threw five scoreless innings, allowing only one hit before turning the ball over to the bullpen. The Gamecocks pushed three runs across in the eighth inning and faced a 7-3 deficit going into the bottom of the ninth.
Liberty pitcher Danny Grauer walked in a run, and Josh Richardson entered the game with the bases loaded, no outs and a score of 7-4. Richardson walked in another run, struck out one batter and induced and RBI groundout to bring up pinch hitter Kyle Martin with two outs and the winning run on second base.
Martin hit a line drive up the middle, which hit Richardson and rolled back toward the plate. Catcher Trey Wimmer fired the ball to first base, but his throw moved too far into the baseline for first baseman Alex Close to catch, which scored both the tying run from third base and the winning run from second.
“We played great,” Wimmer said. “I mean, we had the No. 5 team in the country, and even the games we lost, we lost by one run.”
The Flames wasted no time in jumping out to a 1-0 lead in the first inning during the third game of the series Sunday night, earning their first win by a score of 3-2.
Designated hitter Justin Sizemore led the team on offense by hammering a solo home run to left field, part of a two-run fourth inning that put the Flames ahead for good.
This time around, the Flames relief pitchers found a way to hold off the Gamecocks when it mattered most. According to Wimmer, he considers the Flames bullpen to be one of the strongest parts of the team despite their struggles in the opening series.
“We didn’t see that coming,” Wimmer said. “I think it was a fluke, to be honest. I’m not worried about our bullpen one bit.”
The Flames will travel to Radford University for one game Tuesday Feb. 19, before breaking in their brand-new stadium Friday, Feb. 22 against Pennsylvania State University.