Apr 28, 2009

Flames burn bulldogs, move closer to top seed

by BJ Williams

The Liberty Flames baseball team needed a big-time boost. After going on a nine-game winning streak, they had lost seven of their last 14 games, including a shellacking by George Mason and a pair of losses to Old Dominion, both in-state, out-of -conference rivals.

The team got just the boost it needed this past week. After sweeping the Winthrop Eagles last weekend to take over the Big South Conference lead, the Flames picked up a pair of dramatic wins, first a 4-3 decision over the Virginia Tech Hokies, who the Flames had not beaten at home since 2006, and a 10-9 win over the Gardner-Webb Bulldogs to take two of three in a weekend conference series.

The week started with a clash on Wednesday as the Virginia Tech Hokies from the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) invaded Worthington Stadium for a single game.

Virginia Tech had won four of the last six meetings between the two teams including the last two at Worthington Stadium (8-2 in 2007, and 11-1 in 2008).

The Flames got off to a rousing start in the second inning as senior Cody Brown took a Rhett Ballard fastball and deposited it over the fence onto Regents Parkway for an early 1-0 lead.

The Hokies responded in the fifth against Flames freshman starter Chris McDougal. After Steve Domecus was hit by a pitch, Anthony Sosnoskie ripped a double to left field to tie the game. He came around to score two batters later on a single by Michael Seaorn to give Tech the lead.

The score stayed 3-1 into the ninth inning. After Flames pitcher John Long pitched a scoreless ninth inning, the Flames rally began with a walk to Matt Williams was followed by a single off the bat of Curran Redal. Following a pair of fly outs and a pitching change, Tyler Bream came up and sent the Flames fans home happy as he launched a 3-2 fastball from Ben Rowen over the fence in left for the victory. Bream finished the game 2-for-4 with three RBIs and Long picked up his first victory of the season.

Liberty kept the good times rolling as they headed down to Boiling Springs, N.C. to face off with the Gardner-Webb. The Flames got off to a good start on Friday taking an early 3-0 lead. The Bulldogs responded with seven unanswered runs to take a 7-2 lead.

Then the Flames bats went to work, scoring six unanswered runs to take an 8-7 lead to the ninth inning. Closer Andrew Wilson came in hoping to pick up his team leading fifth save of the year. But the Bulldogs had other ideas. Three straight singles tied the game at 8 and then Ty Boyles ripped a double to left to plate the winning run. Wilson took the loss for the Flames, his second of the year.

The Flames looked to get back on the winning track Saturday in game two and they came back in a big way. Tyler Bream continued to swing a righteously hot bat as he drove in six runs and Tim Rotola hit his first home run of the year to pace the offense. Converted first baseman Shawn Teufel went six strong innings, allowing only one run while striking out eight to win his sixth game in a row and run his record to 7-1 on the year as the Flames torched the Bulldogs 10-2.
Both teams were looking to win the rubber match Sunday, and it showed early as the Flames jumped out to an early 2-0 lead thanks to a single by Tyler Bream and later a fielding error by Gardner-Webb third baseman Justin Loyd.

The Bulldogs responded with five runs in their half of the first, including the first of two home runs on the day by Ty Boyles, hero of Friday’s game. Liberty responded with a run in the second to cut the deficit to 5-3, but a pair of two run innings by Gardner-Webb pushed the lead to six at 9-3.

In the sixth inning, LU strapped on their rally caps and started on the comeback trail. After a pair of runs in the 7th on a double by Justin Richardson, the Flames got tied things up in the 8th, scoring four runs on five hits, the biggest of them a grand slam by senior catcher Errol Hollinger.

After a scoreless 9th, the teams settled in for some extra baseball. After no runs were scored in the 10th, freshman Trey Wimmer blasted a fastball from Jake Watts, the fifth Gardner-Webb pitcher over the fence for a game-winning home run. Wilson, who blew the save on Friday, came back Sunday and pitched four strong innings in relief, giving up just two runs to earn his fifth win of the season.

Head Coach Jim Toman was “proud of his team” for circling the wagons after getting down by six and offered very high praise for his senior closer who did yeoman’s work after the loss on Friday.

After a non-conference visit to Charlottesville to face another ACC in-state foe in the University of Virginia, the Flames play their final conference road series of the season when they head down to Conway, S.C. to face the defending Big South Champion Coastal Carolina Chanticleers. The Chanticleers have eliminated the Flames in the championship round of the Big South Championship the last two years. The first game of the series is scheduled for May 1 and will be televised by ESPNU.


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