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Liberty's Season Comes to Close

May 27, 2011
|  Lexington, Va.
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Shortstop Matt Williams had two hits, Friday night.

The No. 2 seed Liberty Flames saw their season come to a close, falling 5-1 to the No. 5 seed Gardner-Webb Runnin' Bulldogs, Friday evening in game 11 in the 2011 Big South Championship.

With the loss, Liberty is eliminated from the double-elimination tournament and finishes the season with a 35-24 record. Gardner-Webb improves to 33-22-1 and advances to tomorrow's title game against No. 1 seed Coastal Carolina at 1 p.m.

The start of the contest was delayed one hour and 46 minutes due to rain in the Lexington area.

Gardner-Webb pitcher Brett Stackhouse pitched his first complete game of the season, allowing one run on five hits. The right-hander evens his record at 2-2, striking out nine and walking one batter. His nine strikeouts were a career high.

Gardner-Webb, the visitors on scoreboard, plated the first run of the game in the second inning. Right fielder Adam McFarland single and moved to second base on a ground out by third base Brad Collins. After catcher John Harris was hit by a pitch, both runners advanced a base on a wild pitch. Designated hitter Zeke Blanton followed by beating out a high chopper to the right side of the infield for a hit, scoring McFarland for a 1-0 lead.

The Runnin' Bulldogs extended their advantage during their next at bat with a four-run uprising. With one out in the third inning, left fielder Jake Watts singled back through the middle and advanced to third base on a hit-and-run single by first baseman Dusty Quattlebaum. The next batter, shortstop Aaron Miller, drove in the first run of the frame with a single.

McFarland followed with liner down the third base line, bringing home Quattlebaum for a 3-0 advantage. Collins then grounded to Flames shortstop Matt Williams, but a low throw attempt to try to get Miller at home plate got away from catcher Casey Rasmus, for a 4-0 advantage. Harris lifted a sacrifice fly to bring home McFarland, completing the four-run frame and giving Gardner-Webb a 5-0 lead.

In the bottom of the fourth, Liberty moved the leadoff man to third base with one out, but he was turned away. Williams opened the inning by ripping a double off the center field wall. The Flames shortstop moved to third base on a ground out by left fielder Doug Bream. However, Stackhouse stranded the runner by striking out the next two Liberty batters to end the frame.

After the Flames pitcher John Niggli had retired 10-straight Gardner-Webb batters, Harris lined a one-out double into the right field corner and moved to third base on a ground out by Blanton in the sixth inning. It looked like the Bulldogs were about to add to their advantage when the next batter, center fielder Benji Jackson, sent a sharp grounder towards the hole between the second and first baseman. But, Liberty second baseman Zack Haley made a diving play and threw out Jackson from his knees to end the inning.

In the seventh, Rasmus singled with two outs for the first Liberty hit off Stackhouse since the double by Williams in the fourth inning. He moved into scoring position by moving to second base on a wild pitch. However, he remained there, as Gardner-Webb's Jackson made a diving catch of first baseman's Austin Taylor's liner to center field.

Liberty broke up the shutout in the ninth, ending Gardner-Webb's run of 17 2/3 innings on the day without allowing a player to cross the plate. Williams led off the inning with a double into the left field corner and scored on error by Miller on a two-out grounder to shortstop by designated hitter Ryan Cordell for the final score of 5-1.

Niggli ends the year with a 4-4 record. The junior right-hander gave up five runs on seven hits in 5 1/3 innings. He struck out six and did not walk a batter. Jacob Kemmerer followed with 2 2/3 scoreless frames of relief.  He retired the last seven batters he faced. Senior Mark Swanson pitched a scoreless ninth in his last game for the Flames.

Williams had two hits for Liberty in the contest. Watts and McFarland each had two hits for Gardner-Webb.