Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Pitching staff maintains dominance

Suffocating pitching and frequent shutouts have driven the Flames as they try to repeat as Big South champions

Baseball players have long observed that hitting can sometimes be contagious. For the Liberty Flames baseball team, the same is true of pitching.

The team has started conference play with a record of 14-1 (29-8 overall), including four straight series sweeps against High Point University, Presbyterian College, Virginia Military Institute (VMI) and Longwood University. That success is due in no small part to the team’s stellar pitching.

command — Liberty’s starting pitchers have a combined record of 24-6. Photo credit: Leah Stauffer

Command — Liberty’s starting pitchers have a combined record of 24-6. Photo credit: Leah Stauffer

At one point, the Flames even racked up more than 60 straight scoreless innings against Big South Conference opponents.

“It’s enjoyable when they can get in and out like that and get us back in the dugout to hit,” senior catcher Danny Grauer said. “And whenever we put up runs like we have been, it gives them that much more confidence. So we’re kind of working off each other.”

The Flames normal Friday starting pitcher, senior Trey Lambert, leads the team with 63 and 1/3 innings pitched and an 8-1 record. The rest of the Flames starting pitchers have followed suit, as Carson Herndon, Parker Bean, Jared Lyons and Blake Fulghum all own ERAs under 3.00.

Even when the Flames had slow starts — a rare occurrence in 2014 — the bullpen has stepped up. Shawn Clowers, Matt Marsh and Ashton Perritt have stood out, allowing only a combined nine runs in more than 66 combined innings in relief.

The Flames have used only eight pitchers for more than 90 percent of the Flames total innings pitched this season — mostly because the top half of the pitching staff has been so good. However, Flames Head Coach Jim Toman said he anticipates having to rest some of his pitchers during the second half of the season in preparation for tournament time.

“It’s a marathon, not a sprint,” Toman said. “… We need to keep playing well. The end of the year is when you want to be playing your best, so we have to make sure our pitchers are well-rested come tournament time.”

Coming off a 2013 year in which then-senior catcher Trey Wimmer anchored the team by starting 64 of the team’s 65 games, Lambert said that Grauer’s presence behind the plate has helped make the transition away from Wimmer a smooth one.

ace — Trey Lambert leads the Flames with an 8-1 record and a 2.27 ERA. Photo credit: Courtney Russo

Ace — Trey Lambert leads the Flames with an 8-1 record and a 2.27 ERA. Photo credit: Courtney Russo

“I think one common factor that a lot of people are looking over is Grauer,” Lambert said. “He’s been back there regardless of who’s throwing, and he’s doing a great job of calling the game, controlling the game.”

Another emerging star is freshman Parker Bean. The 6-foot-5-inch right-hander came within two outs of a no-hitter against VMI Sunday, April 6, and threw his first collegiate complete game against Longwood Sunday, April 13.

“Parker was really good in the fall, so our expectations were Sunday starter or midweek starter,” Toman said. “It’s very difficult for a freshman to do that, but he has the arm to do it. He’s still learning how to pitch a little bit, but he was obviously excellent (against VMI). We needed him to pitch as a freshman, and he’s done well.”

Bean will be especially important now given the Flames uncertainty about the health of usual Saturday starter Carson Herndon, who is currently sidelined with a forearm injury. Blake Fulghum filled the role of Saturday starting pitcher against Longwood April 12 with a complete game, but time will tell how Herndon’s absence will affect the Flames.

“Everyone on the pitching roster wants to compete with each other to get the most strikeouts and get the most wins and that kind of stuff,” Bean said. “When one guy does well, the guy the next day wants to follow up with a performance as well and help the team get the (win). At the end of the day, it’s all about getting the win, and I think that’s what we’ve done so far.”

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