Home opener, stadium success
Flames take series from the Penn State Nittany Lions in the much anticipated public debut of new ballpark
Red towels flooded the stands, and more than 2,500 fans roared as Chancellor Jerry Falwell, Jr. threw out the first pitch. Almost three hours later, Liberty Flames pitcher Ashton Perritt reached back and blew a 91 mph fastball past Penn State University’s J.C. Coban, and it was over.
The Flames beat the Penn State Nittany Lions by a score of 4-1 Saturday afternoon in the inaugural game at the Liberty Baseball Stadium, improving their overall record to 2-2.
“We had a great crowd, and we played pretty solid defense,” Liberty Head Coach Jim Toman said. “Penn State is a quality program, and they had a senior pitcher on the mound who pitched very well, so we were very fortunate to win. I’m proud of the guys, and it was just a great environment.”
The team did get to practice on the new field twice before the first game Saturday, but according to Liberty first baseman Alex Close, the atmosphere felt a lot better with a crowd in the stands.
“It was a blast,” Close said. “We’ve never lost on this field. That’s what Jeff Barber said after the game. It was fun.”
The Nittany Lions stole the first run of the game in the top of the first inning, but Flames center fielder Ryan Cordell woke up his team’s offense with a double down the left field line — the first Flames hit in the new stadium. The Flames knotted the score at one during that fourth inning, and would later take the lead.
“We wanted to open up the stadium the right way and get a win,” Cordell said. “A lot of our guys played really well, and the pitchers did great. It was nice to get a win in our first game here.”
Catcher and team captain Trey Wimmer only notched one hit on the day, but he certainly made it count. Penn State relief pitcher Cody Lewis got one out in the seventh inning before loading the bases. Wimmer then hit a hard ground ball to third base that deflected off the Penn State player’s glove and found its way into left field for a two-run single.
An infield hit by Nick Paxton later that inning would extend Liberty’s lead to 4-1, but Wimmer’s single would turn out to be the game-winning hit.
“It was a lot of fun,” Wimmer said. “I will remember that for a long time.”
According to Wimmer, the team appreciated having more fans to support the team in the new stadium, and he was not alone in his appreciation for the team’s fan base.
Multiple Flames players took to Twitter and Facebook almost immediately after the game to give their thanks to the people who attended the home opener despite 40-degree temperatures.
Flames pitcher Carson Herndon lasted more than five innings on the mound, striking out three and giving up only one run. Relief pitchers Matt Marsh, Robert Gray and Ashton Perritt nailed down the win and combined to hold Penn State to only three hits over four scoreless innings.
“We have four or five different guys (who) we can use, and we decided to go with Marsh and the matchup lefty, Gray, and Perritt today,” Toman said. “It worked, so I’m happy to see that.”
According to Liberty Athletic Director Jeff Barber, construction on the new stadium will continue throughout the season, but it should be completed when the Flames host the Big South Conference Championship Tournament in May.
The Flames took both games Sunday, Feb. 24, winning the first 12-3 and the second 6-1 and concluding the home opening series with a sweep.
In the first game of two, Liberty opened with a 5-0 lead in the third inning behind six hits. After Penn State came within two in the top of the sixth inning, Liberty added seven more runs en route to a nine- run win.
Wimmer led the Flames with three RBIs off two hits.
In the final game of the afternoon and the series, Wimmer continued to stay hot, going 3-3 with two doubles and a triple. Liberty added three runs in the second inning.
Justin Sizemore was walked to start the frame by Penn State pitch Taylor Patton. After a Wimmer double and a passed ball, Sizemore put the first points on the board. Wimmer scored off Sype’s single to the right field. Nick Lacik also scored from third base off a bunt by Nick Paxton.
Liberty looks to continue its four-game winning streak as the Flames travel to take on the Elon University Phoenix Tuesday, Feb. 26 at 5 p.m.