After an amazing run to their first NCAA regional final, the Liberty Flames' season came to an end, falling to the South Carolina Gamecocks, 6-4, in the Columbia, S.C. Regional, Monday at Carolina Stadium.
After defeating Clemson, 3-1, yesterday, 2013 Big South Champion Liberty was making its first regional final appearance in the history of the Flames' program.
Last night, play was suspended between the Flames and the Gamecocks due to serve weather. With South Carolina leading 4-2 in the middle of the fifth, lightning and rain moved into the Columbia, S.C. area, halting play. After two hour and 32 minute wait, the game was official suspended to this afternoon.
Trailing 6-3 in the ninth, Liberty rallied to have the go-ahead run come to bat. With one out, Ashton Perritt reached when South Carolina second baseman Max Shrock loss his infield pop-up in the sun.
Center fielder Ryan Cordell then walked and both runners moved up a base on a passed ball. A ground out by catcher Trey Wimmer scored Perritt for what proved to be the final score of 6-4. Second baseman Bryan Aanderud then followed by reaching on an infield single to put runners at the corners with two outs. However, Gamecock reliever Tyler Webb retired the next Flame to close out the 6-4 win for South Carolina and earn his 17th save of the year.
Senior left fielder Justin Sizemore closed out his time in a Liberty uniform with three hits in the contest. He doubled and scored a twice in the game. Sizemore, along with Aanderud, Wimmer and Friday's winning pitcher Josh Richardson were named to the Columbia, S.C. All-Regional team.
Liberty finishes its season at 36-29. The Flames were making their first NCAA Regional appearance since 2000, after winning the 2013 Big South Baseball Championship to secure the conference's automatic bid into the NCAA field. South Carolina moves to 42-18 and advances to a NCAA Super Regional where they will play the winner of the Chapel Hill, N.C. Regional between Florida Atlantic and North Carolina.
When the contest resumed, South Carolina scored two runs in the bottom of the fifth. Catcher Grayson Greiner singled off new Liberty pitcher Blake Fulghum and moved to second base on a sacrifice bunt by first baseman Kyle Martin. Left fielder Graham Saiko followed with a run-scoring single to give the Gamecocks a 5-2 advantage. After Saiko advanced to third base on a fly out, center fielder Tanner English dropped down a two-out bunt for a hit, scoring Saiko for a 6-2 lead.
In the top of the sixth, Liberty moved two runners into scoring position, but came away empty. First baseman Alex Close and right fielder Nick Paxton reached on back-to-back, one-out singles. A ground out to the right side of the infield moved both runners into scoring position at second and third. However, Gamecock reliever Adam Westmoreland retired the next batter to end the inning and the threat.
The Flames cut into South Carolina's lead in the eighth. With one out, Sizemore lined an opposite-field single to right field. Two batters later, pinch hitter Danny Grauer ripped a double off the left-center wall, plating Sizemore to trim the Gamecock advantage to 6-3.
Before the lightning and rain last night, South Carolina, the regional host, opened the contest with a run in the bottom of the first. Third baseman Chase Vergason and shortstop Joey Pankake each drew one-out walks. Designated hitter LB Dantzler followed with a run-scoring single through the right side of the infield for a 1-0 edge.
Liberty threatened in the top of the second. With one out, Sizemore and first baseman Alex Close hit back-to-back singles. A fielder's choice grounder by right fielder Nick Paxton left runners on the corners with two outs. But Gamecock starter Jack Wynkoop retired the next Flame to end the threat.
In the bottom of the third, South Carolina plated three runs with two outs. English began the frame by lining a ground-rule double into the left-field gap. Three batters later, shortstop Joey Pankake dropped a two-out single into left field to score English for a 2-0 advantage. Dantzler followed with a RBI double into the right-center field gap, giving the Gamecocks a 3-0 edge. After Greiner walked, Martin singled to right field, bringing home a run for a 4-0 lead.
Liberty struck for its first two runs of the contest in the top of the fourth. With one out, Aanderud singled and moved to third on a double lined into the left field corner by Sizemore. After Close walked to load the bases, Paxton sent a single through the right side of the infield, plating Aanderud to make it, 4-1 South Carolina. The next batter, shortstop Dalton Britt, then lifted a sacrifice fly to center field, slicing the Gamecock advantage to a 4-2.
A light drizzle began to fall in the top of the fifth, before lightning moved into the area, stopping play. Later, rain fell in the area causing the game to be suspended to today.
Perritt, who started the contest on the mound for the Flames on Sunday, finishes the year at 3-2. Making his first start of the season, the right-hander gave up four runs on six hits during the first four innings. He struck out two and walked four batters.
South Carolina reliever Colby Holmes improves to 5-2 on the year. He entered the game in last night with one out in the fourth and was on the mound for the Gamecocks when the contest resumed. Holmes pitched a scoreless 1 1/3 innings, allowing two hits. He struck out one batter.
Liberty collected 12 hits in the contest. Aanderud, Close and Paxton had two hits apiece for the Flames. South Carolina had nine hits. Dantzler and English each recorded two hits for the Gamecocks.