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Liberty Takes Home Opener, 6-3
|Andy Smith is greeted at home plate by teammate Zack Haley after hitting his first home run of the year.|
Outfielder Andy Smith gave Liberty the lead with a two-run home run in the third inning and made a catch against wall to take away extra bases in the ninth inning, powering the Flames past the Radford Highlanders, 6-3, in their home opener at Worthington Stadium, Wednesday.
Smith went 3-for-4 during the contest, driving in two runs with his first home run of the season and scoring two runs. The center fielder, who has at least one hit in each of Flames' first five games, also made the defensive play of the contest. He made a running catch against the wall to take extra bases away with two Highlanders aboard in the ninth inning.
With the win, Liberty remains unbeaten, moving to 5-0 on the year and 5-0 in home openers under head coach Jim Toman. The Flames have won 13 straight home openers, dropping their last home schedule opening contest at Worthington Stadium in 1998. The contest was the first nonconference game between Liberty and Radford since April 28, 1991. Radford falls to 1-3 on the year.
For the first time this season, the Flames did not score the first runs of the game. The visiting Highlanders plated two runs in the top of the third inning to grab an early advantage. With runners on second and third base and one out, first baseman Ryan Burgess grounded out, scoring left fielder Matt Hillsinger for the contest's first run. Third baseman Matt Mack followed with a bunt single to score shortstop Jeff Kemp, who had doubled earlier in the frame, for a 2-0 lead.
Liberty answered in the bottom of the inning, with three runs of its own. Catcher Trey Wimmer opened the frame with a single and two batters later, scored all the way from first base on a double into the left field corner by shortstop Zack Haley. After Haley moved to third base on a sacrifice bunt by left fielder Ian Parmley, Smith ripped the first pitch he saw over the right field wall, putting the Flames in front, 3-2.
During the fourth inning, Liberty extended its lead. With one out, Wimmer lifted a sacrifice fly to left field, upping the Flames' advantage to 4-2, scoring Tyler Cox, who led of the frame when he was struck by a pitch.
The Highlanders cut the Liberty advantage in the sixth inning. Second baseman Josh Gardner doubled to center field and was thrown out trying to stretch the liner into a triple, but not before catcher Daniel Wright scored, trimming the host team's edge to 4-3.
Liberty added two insurance runs in the bottom of the eighth inning. With one out, Smith singled and moved to third on a hit-and-run single by right fielder Michael Robertson. After the Robertson stole second, Smith scored as Wright's throwing attempt to second to try to get the Flames' right fielder sailed into center field. Robertson then made it, 6-3, Liberty, coming home on a wild pitch.
In the top of the ninth inning, center fielder Zach Costello and Hillsinger both reached on back-to-back singles. Kemp followed by lifting a liner towards the wall in right-center field. However, Smith took away extra bases and recorded the second out of the inning with a running catch, smashing against the wall and squelching the Radford rally.
Liberty used five pitchers in the contest, who allowed a combined 10 hits. Starter Kody Young collects his first win in a Flames uniform, running his record to 1-0 on the year. The transfer allowed two runs on four hits during the first three innings. He struck out one and walked one. Tim Dudley, the fifth pitcher of the game for the Flames, earns the first collegiate save. The left-hander pitched 2 2/3 innings of scoreless relief to close out the contest.
Lynchburg native Jeff Maxwell takes the loss for Radford. The first of four Highlander pitchers on the afternoon, Maxwell gave up four runs on five hits over four innings. Radford pitchers gave up eight hits in the contest.
Hillsinger had three hits in the game to lead the Highlanders.
Liberty will host the Siena Saints in a four-game series this weekend. First pitch for Friday's series opener is scheduled for 3 p.m.