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Six-Run Eighth Propels Liberty to Sweep of Winthrop
With the win, Liberty clinched a spot in the upcoming 2007 Big South Tournament. The Flames, currently in sole possession of third place in the conference standings, move to 12-6 in the Big South and 31-22 overall. The Flames can clinch at least the No. 3 seed with one win in their final three-game Big South series, next weekend at VMI.
Winthrop, the Big South co-leader at the beginning of the afternoon, falls to 14-4 in conference play and 30-22 overall. The setback drops the Eagles into second place in the Big South standings.
It is only the second time since the two teams began playing three-game series in 1992 that Liberty has swept a three-game set from Winthrop. In 2002, the Flames also swept the Eagles in a three-game series at Winthrop. In addition, Sunday's win marked the fifth consecutive victory by the Flames over the Eagles, dating back to last year's Big South Tournament. Liberty has done so one other time in the all-time series between the two schools, winning five straight contests over Winthrop during the 2001 and 2002 seasons.
After seeing the Eagles go on top 4-3 in the top of the eighth inning, the Flames would send 11 batters to the plate in the home half of the frame. P.K. Keller (Jr., LF, Clearwater, Fla.) and Garrett Young (Jr., CF, Fountain Valley, Calif.) began the uprising with back-to-back singles. Two batters later, Phil John (Sr., RF, Linwood, N.J.) tied the game at four by ripping a single to right to score home from third base. Patrick Gaillard (Sr., SS, Taylors, S.C.) then lined a single to left to load the bases.
The next batter, Errol Hollinger (So., C, Upland, Calif.), made it three straight singles for the Flames, with a run-scoring hit to produce Young and give Liberty its second lead of the contest, 5-4. With the infield drawn in, batter David Giammaresi (Jr., 3B, Coral Springs, Fla.) sent a RBI chopper to short, which the Eagle shortstop overthrew in an attempt to force Phil John at the plate, allowing Gaillard to also come home for a 7-4 advantage. After reloading the bases with an intentional walk to Kenneth Negron (So., 2B, Kingwood, Texas), Keller, up for the second time in the frame, singled sharply up the middle to plate two more runs and give the Flames a 9-4 lead, headed to the ninth.
In the ninth, a two-run double by Kevin Nolan closed the gap to 9-6, but reliever Tim John (Sr., RHP, Linwood, N.J.) retired the next hitter to close out the victory.
Tim John, pitching in his final home game at Liberty, was the beneficiary of the Flames' outburst to run his mark to 4-2 on the year. The senior, who won the series opener on Friday, allowed three runs on three hits in 2 1/3 innings of relief of starter Dustin Umberger. Once again, Umberger gave the Flames a strong start, giving up three runs on seven hits over 6 2/3 frames. Winthrop starter Jason Franzblau takes the loss to drop to 8-4 on the season. The Eagle right-hander gave up nine runs, five earned, on 15 hits over 7 2/3 innings.
Unlike the first two games of the weekend series, Liberty plated the first run of the contest in the third inning. With runners on first and second and one out, Keller smacked a run-producing opposite field single to right to put the Flames up, 1-0.
In its next at bat, Liberty extended its advantage to 3-0. With one out in the fourth frame, Phil John beat out an infield single into the hole at shortstop. Gaillard immediately cashed in John with a double to the warning track in right center field. Gaillard then advanced to third on a throwing error on a pickoff attempt by the Winthrop catcher and scored on a single through the right side by Giammaresi.
Held in check by Umberger through the first six innings, the Eagles knotted the game in the seventh. Eddie Tisdale walked to open the frame. After the next two batters were retired, pinch hitter Louis Ullrich dropped a double inside the right field foul line to put runners at second and third. Chris Carrera was then hit by a pitch to load the bases. Phil Carey followed with an opposite field bases-clearing double to left to knot the game at 3-3.
Winthrop took a short-lived, 4-3 advantage in the top of the eighth. Nolan singled to lead off the inning and stole second base. He then advanced to third on a grounder to first and scored on a squeeze bunt by Mike Honce, which the pitcher could not scoop up.
Senior Phil John, playing in his final contest at Worthington Stadium, was 3-for-4 with a RBI and two runs scored, while teammate Keller also went 3-for-4 with three runs driven in and one run scored. Eight of the nine Liberty starters had a hit in the contest. In addition, senior Gaillard, Negron and Hollinger had two hits apiece for the Flames. Nolan was 3-for-5 with two RBI and one run scored to lead Winthrop.
Before the game, six members of the Liberty roster were recognized for playing in their final home game. Honored were outfielder Derek Bennion (Snohomish, Wash.), shortstop Gaillard, outfielder Phil John, pitcher Tim John, designated hitter/outfielder Tim Nanry (Rochester, N.Y.) and pitcher Michael Solbach (Woodbridge, Va.).
Liberty has the week off before its final Big South series of the season to close out the regular season next weekend. The Flames will travel to Lexington, Va., for a three-game series with the VMI Keydets, Friday-Sunday. The series opens with night games on Friday and Saturday at 7 p.m. at VMI's Patchin Field, followed up by the final contest at 2 p.m. on Sunday.