Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Scoreless sweep

Liberty held off the Keydets to win its sixth consecutive game

Liberty 5, VMI 0
Liberty Flames (25-8, 11-1 Big South) senior starting pitcher Trey Lambert stood atop the mound at Liberty Baseball Stadium Friday night, April 4 and popped catcher Danny Grauer’s glove with a 90-mile-an-hour-plus fastball for his first pitch of the game. Two hours, 10 minutes and 117 pitches later, the postgame fireworks exploded in celebration of a 5-0 Flames win over the Virginia Military Institute Keydets (16-13, 6-6 Big South).

Lambert, the leader of a Flames pitching staff that held the Presbyterian Blue Hose completely scoreless in a three-game sweep last weekend, has more than likely forgotten what it feels like to watch the opposition cross home plate, and for good reason. It has not occurred in more than 22 innings.

Blanks — The Flames pitching staff has shut out Big South opponents in 60 straight innings. Photo credit: Leah Stauffer

Blanks — The Flames pitching staff has shut out Big South opponents in 60 straight innings. Photo credit: Leah Stauffer

Lambert scattered six hits in his nine innings of work, getting quick outs by attacking the strike zone with fastballs early in the game and only walking one Keydet hitter. According to him, using fastballs to get ahead in the count has been a key to his success.

“If it’s a good fastball day, I’ve got it on a downhill plane and have decent velocity, I can get a lot of ground balls with that pitch,” Lambert said.

Lambert executed his gameplan to perfection, retiring the Keydets leadoff hitter in all nine innings of the game.

“Knowing that they are a small-ball type of team, that just puts an extra importance on getting the leadoff guy out,” Lambert said. “That was a big focus today.”

As if Lambert’s streak of 22 and 1/3 scoreless innings was not impressive enough, Friday’s win over VMI meant that the Flames entire pitching staff had not given up a run against a Big South Conference opponent in more than 42 innings.

“It’s always good when your Friday guy sets the tone,” Toman said about Lambert’s performance. “The other guys want to match it. The other guys have been pitching well too.”

In contrast to VMI’s leadoff struggles, Flames leadoff hitters got on base in five of their eight innings at the plate, led by a 4-4 day from freshman leadoff hitter Will Shepherd.

Designated hitter Becker Sankey took advantage of the frequent Flames baserunners, going 2-4 with 3 RBIs.

The Flames, a team that crushed three home runs against the Duke University Blue Devils just three days earlier, created offense in a very different way Friday night. According to Toman, the team worked on bunting for an hour in practice, and the work paid off in their win over the Keydets.

After a two-run third inning, the Flames used infield singles and conventional singles, sacrifice bunts and bunt singles, to tack on one run each in the fifth, sixth and seventh
innings.

Although the Keydets only threatened to score in the sixth and seventh innings, Lambert seemed to hit his stride near the end of the game.

“The adrenaline starts kicking in,” Lambert said. “By the time you get to the late innings, you’re not thinking. You’re not saying, ‘Man, where did my legs go?’ It’s just, ‘Give me the ball and let me get back out there.’”

Liberty 4, VMI 0
The Liberty Flames baseball team beat the Keydets 4-0 in the second matchup of a three-game weekend series Saturday, April 5.

Excellent pitching from a trio of Flames pitchers held VMI scoreless, allowing only of five hits. Carson Herndon, Blake Fulghum and Matt Marsh combined for nine strikeouts and held VMI to a .151 batting average for the game.

The Flames did not do much better offensively, but they took advantage of their scoring opportunities to turn six hits into four runs.

Herndon started off the game by striking out three of the first four batters he faced. A single and two walks left VMI with the bases loaded with only one out in the top of the second inning. But Herndon struck out the next batter, and a VMI runner was picked off at second after a grounder.

Runs — Liberty scored 26 runs in a three-game sweep. Photo credit: Leah Stauffer

Runs — Liberty scored 26 runs in a three-game sweep. Photo credit: Leah Stauffer

Herndon’s pitching, including his six strikeouts, held the Keydets to zero runs through the middle of the fifth inning. However, his game was cut short when he injured his throwing arm with one out left in the fifth.

Toman said Herndon’s arm had tightened up, and he was scheduled to be evaluated Monday.

“We are praying that it is nothing serious,” Toman said, noting that Herndon has had a history of issues with his arm.

Fulghum came in to replace Herndon on a 2-2 count with one out remaining in the inning. He was able to close it out quickly, as VMI batter Cameron Walter fouled out to right field.
“The pitching coach told me that if (Herndon) got in trouble, I would be the first guy up,” Fulghum said. “So I had it in my mind (to) just be ready the whole time.”

In the bottom of the fifth, a dropped fly ball by VMI allowed Danny Grauer to advance to second base. The Flames took advantage of the error two at bats later when Ashton Perritt singled to center field, allowing Grauer to score the first run of the game.

Liberty’s next runs did not come until the bottom of the eighth when VMI swapped out its pitcher. Facing three separate pitchers that inning, the Flames scored three runs off three hits.

Matt Marsh came in to close out the game, and he shut out the Keydets in the ninth to secure the Flames victory.

Liberty 17, VMI 0
When Flames freshman Parker Bean took the mound in the first inning, he knew he was about to have a special outing.

“I thought from the start of the game in the bullpen, its just one of those things sometimes where I say, ‘I’m going to try to do something special today,’” Bean said. “… I think right from the get-go I was just confident in my abilities.”

Bean held the Keydets hitless and struck out a career-high 16 in 8 and 1/3 innings before finally surrendering a hit.

“I didn’t really feel the nerves today,” Bean said. “I just played the game I love out there, and every inning I was eager to get back on the mound. I was keeping it alive in the dugout, talking with the guys and not making a big deal out of anything.”

The Flames also had what Toman described as their most complete game of the year, as they tied a season-high with 17 runs.

“You can’t pitch much better, you can’t play much better defense and you can’t hit better, I don’t believe,” Toman said.

With the victory, the Flames moved their record to 25-8 and 11-1 in the Big South and will return to action Tuesday, April 8 to take on the Richmond Spiders.

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