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Five-Run Fifth Lifts Flames Past Panthers; Tying Division I Win Mark
Down 6-2 in the fifth inning, Liberty scored five times to take a lead the Flames never relinquished, in defeating the High Point Panthers, 11-9, Saturday afternoon at Worthington Stadium. The victory was the Flames' 36th of the season and ties the Division I school mark for wins with both the 2005 and 2000 Liberty squads.
With the win in middle game of the Big South three-game series, the Flames move to 13-10 in the conference and 36-18 overall. The Panthers, meanwhile, fall to 13-10 also in the conference and 25-30 overall.
Liberty ties the program record for most wins at the Division I level of competition which the Flames moved to for the 1984 season. With their 36 victories, Liberty ties the mark which the team set last season with a 36-19 record and in 2000 with a 36-23 mark. In addition, 36 wins are the most victories during head coach Matt Royer's four years at Liberty. The 1983 Flames hold the Liberty all-time record with 40 wins in 1983.
High Point opened the scoring in the top half of the third with four runs on two home runs. Dustin Holtzman opened the inning with a home run to right, his second of the series and fourth of the season. Later in the inning, Billy Aguiar hit a two-out three-run home run to right field to put the Panthers up, 4-0. It was the catcher's third of the season.
Liberty responded with two runs in the bottom of the inning to cut the lead to 4-2. The Flames opened the inning by loading the bases as Phil John (Jr., RF, Linwood, N.J.) singled and both Errol Hollinger (Fr., C, Upland, Calif.) and Chad Miller (Sr., 3B, Wheat Ridge, Colo.) walked. Michael Just (Sr., 2B, Woodcliff Lake, N.J.) plated the first Liberty run with a sacrifice fly to score John, while Phillip Laurent (Sr., LF, Cantrall, Ill.) followed with a run-scoring single.
In the top of the fourth, the Panthers came right back with two more runs to extend their advantage to 6-2. Holtzman singled and Wheeler walked to begin the frame. After a sacrifice bunt moved both runners up a base, Chris Norwood's ground out scored Holtzman. Two batters later, Wheeler came home on a single by Aguiar.
The Flames would take control in the fifth with five runs on five hits. Miller began the uprising with a walk and moved to second on a single by Just. After an out, Laurent doubled to the right center field gap plating the both runners, while tying the Liberty record for two-base hits in a season with 22. Two batters later, P.K. Keller (So., CF, St. Petersburg, Fla.) singled to score Laurent and close the gap to 6-5. Derek Bennion (r-Jr., DH, Snohomish, Wash.) followed with a single to chase home Keller and knot the contest at 6-6. Bennion then stole second and scored on the third consecutive Flames' single by John to give Liberty a 7-6 lead.
With 22 doubles in a season, Laurent ties Joey Monahan who set the mark in 2002. Earlier this season, the left field became both the Liberty all-time hit and doubles leader. The two runs he drove in with the double also are a career season-high for Laurent with 63 RBI.
In the sixth, the Flames added two more to go up, 9-6. Miller walked again to lead off the inning and moved to second on a walk to Aaron Grijalva (r-So., 1B, Redlands, Calif.). Miller advanced to third on a wild pitch and scored on a single by Patrick Gaillard (Jr., SS, Taylors, S.C.). Keller followed with a RBI single to right.
The teams each put runs on the board in the seventh. In the guest's half of the inning, Mark Shorey scored on a RBI single by J. Williams. In the home half, Liberty added two on a two-run triple to wall in left center field by Just for a 11-7 advantage.
A Panther rally in the ninth would fall short. After three-consecutive singles loaded the bases, High Point's Shorey scored on a fielding error by the first baseman and another run came home on a double play to cut the Liberty advantage to 11-9. However, the next batter flied out to end the contest.
Flames' reliever Tim John (Jr., RHP, Linwood, N.J.) runs his record to 6-3 on the season by allowing four runs, two earned, on six hits over the game's last six innings. Ryan Page (So., LHP. Cranberry Twp. Pa.) started for Liberty and allowed five runs on seven hits over three innings. Panthers' starter, Matt Christie, the first of four pitchers for High Point, took the loss to drop to 3-2 on the year, yielding seven runs on eight hits over five innings.
Keller went 4-for-5 with two RBI, while Just and Laurent each had two hits and drove in three runs each for the Flames. Phil John also had two hits as the right fielder was 2-for-3 with two walks afternoon. Aguiar was 4-for-5 with four RBI and two runs scored for the Panthers, while first baseman Randy Schwartz, Holtzman and Shorey had two hits apiece.
High Point and Liberty will meet in the final game of the regular season for both teams tomorrow afternoon. Liberty will honor seniors Billy Daniels (RHP, Colonial Heights, Va.), Phillip Thompson (RHP, Ringgold, Va.), Just, Laurent and Miller who will play in their last game at Worthington Stadium. First pitch is scheduled for 1 p.m.