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2013 Liberty Flames Baseball Outlook

February 12, 2013
|  Lynchburg, Va.
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Bryan Aanderud, Trey Wimmer and Ryan Cordell

With the start of the 2013 Liberty baseball season just three days away, LibertyFlames.com previews this year's Flames. Liberty will open its 2013 season next Friday in Columbia, S.C. at No. 5 South Carolina. Game time is scheduled for 3 p.m.

After posting the top two win totals in program history during two of the last three seasons, the Liberty Flames Baseball team enters the 2013 season looking to build on its previous successes by capturing the Big South Championship and earning a NCAA Regional bid. Last season, the Flames posted a 41-19 mark, the second most wins in a season in school history, and Liberty compiled a school record for wins in 2010 with a 43-18 record.

In addition, the team will have a new home this season, christening Liberty Baseball Stadium with a three-game series against Penn State, Feb. 22-24. The Flames will play all their home games at Liberty's newest athletics facility, while construction wraps up. The 2,500-seat is scheduled to be completed in time to host the Big South Baseball Championship, May 21-25.

In his first five years at the helm of the Flames program, Toman has posted the highest NCAA Division I winning percentage (.633) of any head baseball coach in program history. This past December, he was cited as one of 10 college baseball head coaches on the rise by PerfectGame.org.

Toman welcomes back 19 players from last year's squad. The Flames have five of their nine position starters including the designated hitter back from last season, while 13 pitchers return.  They will be joined by 16 newcomers.

"Fall and spring practices have gone really well," stated Toman. "The guys seem to have a good work ethic, get along well with each other, did well academically. I am very pleased with the fall. "

"We have a group of guys who have fun, which is important, and is not in awe of the competition.  They are rather loose and have strong team chemistry."

The 2013 Flames will face one of the toughest schedules in program history this season, featuring a strong non-conference slate to go with conference play.

"I would be surprised if there was a tougher schedule that anyone has played at Liberty," noted Toman. "With the kind of teams we are playing, we need to be ready to play every day."

The Liberty pitching staff set school records in 2012, with a 3.04 ERA and 11 shutouts.  The Flames finished the year ranked 15th in the nation in ERA and also set the conference record for shutouts.

"Coach [Garrett] Quinn has done a good job with our pitching staff, setting the ERA record after beginning the year with only one pitcher who had pitched over 30 innings the year before," stated Toman.  "We are in a similar situation this season, as Brooks Roy is the only one of our pitchers to have thrown over 40 innings last year."

"However, we like what we saw from our pitchers in the fall. We have 12 to 15 guys who have shown themselves to be pretty good pitchers and we will find out during the course of the year who will get the majority of the innings."

Highlighting the 13 returners from 2012 are the aforementioned Roy, right-handers Carson Herndon and Patrick Bankemper and left-hander Jared Lyons.

In his first season with the Flames, Roy started the year in the bullpen, before moving into the starting rotation during the middle of the season. The right-hander posted a 4-0 record with a 2.49 ERA over 43 1/3 innings, including a solid outing as the starter in Liberty's win at No. 6 North Carolina last year.

Meanwhile, Herndon also split time as a starter and a reliever in his freshman season with Flames in 2012.  Considered by Toman to be team's most improved pitcher, Herndon went 3-1 with a save and a 4.60 ERA over 31 1/3 innings last season.

Relievers Bankemper and Lyons turned out to be the workhorses of the Liberty relief corps in 2012.  Bankemper led the Flames with 26 appearances, while Lyons made 24 appearances. Both are expected to be fixtures of the Liberty bullpen again this season.

Bankemper posted a 3-2 mark with a 2.76 ERA and two saves in 2012.  Lyons went 3-4 with three saves and 3.04 ERA.

The Liberty mound staff will also have right-handers Daniel Brown, Trey Lambert, Matt Marsh, Willi Martin, Josh Richardson and Kody Young return, along with newcomers Nick Grant, Justin Gunn, Kyle McKelvey, Adam Parks and Andrew Maudlin. Besides Lyons, the Flames will also have left-handed returner Shawn Clowers and newcomers Blake Fulghum and Robert Gray.

Right-handers Danny Grauer and Ashton Perritt will be two-way players, also seeing time in the field.

The return of Richardson could provide a boost to the Liberty pitching staff. Due to injury, the junior played in the field last season.  In 24 pitching appearances during 2010 and 2011, the right-hander recorded a 1-2 record with eight saves.   

Last season, Trey Wimmer took over the catching duties during the first week of the season, and stabilized the position, providing solid defense and leadership. With the senior returning, the position seems to be in capable hands beginning the season.

Selected a team captain for the second consecutive year, Wimmer threw out 23 would be base stealers in 2012 and allowed just six passed balls. At the plate, he hit .229 and hit three home runs.  However, two of his home runs came in key spots last season. He gave the Flames a two-run cushion with a leadoff, eighth-inning solo round tripper at No. 6 North Carolina and hit a two-out, two-run home run for a 4-3 victory over Gardner-Webb to advance Liberty to the Big South title game. The catcher ended the year by being selected to the Big South All-Tournament team.

Danny Grauer and Alex Close will back-up Wimmer at the position. Grauer, who was the Flames' opening day catcher last season and missed part of 2012 with a broken finger, is also expected to be part of the Liberty pitching staff this season.  Close will be the starter at first base after an outstanding freshman season, but Toman hopes to also get him some time behind the plate this season.

The Flames will start the year with an experienced infield, as three starters return from last season. Alex Close, Bryan Aanderud and Dalton Sype all comeback from an infield which helped Liberty set a school record with a .975 fielding percentage.

"I like the experience we have," commented Toman about his infield. "We have two seniors and an All-American there. The obvious place we need guys to step up is shortstop."

Led by Close, the Flames will once again have plenty of options with their depth at first base. Close was named a Louisville Slugger/Collegiate Baseball and a National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association (NCBWA) Freshman All-American last season.  The 2012 Big South Freshman of the Year, Close hit .304 with 47 RBIs, while belting a conference-leading 14 home runs.  Close's home run total set the Big South and Liberty record for home runs by a freshman in a season.

Grauer and Wimmer are also two possibilities at first base, along with newcomer Austin Bream, who could also see time in the outfield.

At second base Aanderud returns after a strong first season at Liberty.  Selected to the 2012 Big South All-Conference second team, the senior started every game in 2012, finishing third in the conference in batting average (.368), hits (81), RBIs (53) and on base percentage (.471). The team captain also led Liberty in batting average, hits, RBIs, and on base percentage.

Sype, the last of the three infield returnees, is once again expected to be the starter at third base. Now a senior, he started 56 games at the position in 2012, hitting .349 over his last 25 games to finish the year with a .297 batting average.  Freshman Sammy Taormina, who Toman stated has shown mature hitting skills for a first-year player, will back up Sype and could see time at second base if needed.

Meanwhile, with the graduation of Zack Haley, Toman will be looking for a new starter at shortstop. Freshmen Dalton Britt and Jake Kimble have been in competition for the starting nod at the position since the beginning of fall practice and a starter has yet to be determined. Since Britt hits left-handed and Kimble right-handed, there is a possibility for a platoon situation. The two freshmen will also back up Aanderud at second base.

With the graduation of two-year starter Ian Parmley and three-year starter Michael Robertson, the Liberty outfield will have different look in 2013.

"Ryan Cordell is back and we look for him to have a breakout junior year as our center fielder," stated Toman.  "In right field, it appears Nick Paxton, a transfer, has solidified that position."

"Meanwhile, we have a three-way competition in left field, which may come down to whom has the hot bat at the time."

After seeing most of his playing time in right field last year, Cordell moves to center field this season.  The team captain comes off a summer, where he was named the top prospect in the Great Lakes League. In 2012, he hit .301 with 35 runs scored and 25 RBIs for the Flames. He also garnered Big South Player of the Week honors for April 10-17.

While Cordell takes over in center, Paxton look as if he will be the starter in right field. A junior college transfer, Paxton adds speed to Liberty lineup and has defensively shown a strong arm.

In left field, Nick Lacik, Ashton Perritt and Justin Sizemore are in competition to start at the position. Lacik, a newcomer, hits left-handed and adds speed to the Liberty roster. Perritt, a sophomore who could also play center field, played in 31 games last season, hitting .229 with 10 runs scored and five stolen bases. Sizemore, a senior, hit .317 and had a .450 slugging percentage in 32 games last season.

Freshmen Brandon Goodson and Austin Bream also give Toman several options in the outfield.

Designated Hitter
Toman has a lot of possibilities when it comes to who will serve as the team's designated hitter.

"It is going to be hard to keep Danny Grauer out of the lineup," stated Liberty's head coach.  "I believe he led the team in hitting during the fall and if he is not pitching or catching, he will be our designated hitter."

Other candidates could be Sammy Taormina, Justin Sizemore or whoever has a hot bat at the time, according to Toman.