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Baseball Opens Season at Coca-Cola Classic

February 18, 2009  Lynchburg, Va.  RSS
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Senior right-hander Dustin Umberger and the rest of the Liberty Flames open their 2009 season, Friday.

Senior right-hander Dustin Umberger and the rest of the Liberty Flames open their 2009 season, Friday.

Complete Game Notes (PDF)

The Games
The Liberty Flames (0-0, 0-0 Big South) travel to Mobile, Ala., to start their 2009 campaign and the program's 36th year at the Coca-Cola Classic, Feb. 20-22 at Stanky Field. Liberty will open its season, Friday, against the No. 12 Ole Miss Rebels (0-0, 0-0 SEC) at 2 p.m. The following day, the Flames will play two contests, at noon and 7 p.m., against the tournament host South Alabama Jaguars (0-0,0-0 Sun Belt). Liberty will conclude the weekend tournament by facing the Mercer Bears (0-0, 0-0 A-Sun) at 11 a.m. Sunday.

What to Watch
After posting a 35-26-1 mark in 2008, Liberty will attempt to get out to a fast start in 2009 with seven new faces in the starting line-up. The Flames' starting nine returns catcher Errol Hollinger, infielder Cody Brown and outfielder Jeff Jefferson from last year's line-up. Hollinger, who will start behind the plate for the fourth consecutive season, has been named to the 2009 Brooks Wallace Player of the Year Watch list. Liberty's Friday starter, Dustin Umberger, led the Big South Conference in strikeouts and was second in wins in 2008. The senior right-hander was voted by conference coaches as one of the top pitchers in the Big South (College Baseball Insider) entering 2009.
Friday's opponent Ole Miss is ranked No. 12 in the nation and comes off its sixth straight NCAA Regional appearance in 2008. The Rebels posted a 39-26 record in 2008 and advanced to the championship game of the SEC Tournament for the second time in three seasons. Returning for Ole Miss is a bevy of players, highlighted by right-handed pitcher Scott Bittle, catcher Brett Basham and outfielder Logan Power. Bittle is a preseason All-America selection and candidate for the Brooks Wallace Award, while Basham was the top defensive catcher in the SEC last season and Power is the top returning hitter for the Rebels.
Host South Alabama returns five starters from last season's 32-26 team. Like Liberty, the Jaguars are led by a catcher. Senior David Doss has been named to the Sun Belt Conference's preseason all-conference team. The catcher, along with returning first baseman Ryan Bohanan, each hit over .325 in 2008.
Mercer returns five starters from 2008's 24-33 team. Among the Bears' returners are outfielder Joe Winkler, who was an A-Sun all-conference selection and Mercer's leading hitter last season, and senior pitcher Dan April, who had a 2.70 ERA and 55 strikeouts in 70 innings pitched in 2008.

A Look at

Ole Miss

South Alabama

Mercer

Roster

 Roster

Roster 

Schedule

 Schedule

 Schedule

2008 Statistics

 2008 Statistics

 2008 Statistics

Web Site

Web Site

Web Site



The Coaches
Liberty Head Coach Jim Toman is in his second year at the helm of the Flames. In this first season at Liberty, he guided the Flames to a 35-26-1 mark, the best record by a Liberty team under a first-year coach in program history.
A 20-year member of the college coaching ranks, he served 18 years as a member of Ray Tanner's staffs at South Carolina and N.C. State. Toman was named the 2002 Baseball America/American Baseball Coaches Association Assistant Coach of the Year and recruited 15 top 25 classes, including all 11 of his seasons at South Carolina. From 2003-2006, three of the four Gamecock recruiting classes were ranked first in the nation by Collegiate Baseball.
During his time in Columbia, S.C., Toman and the Gamecocks made nine NCAA Regional appearances, including eight-straight since 2000, and three-consecutive trips to the College World Series (2002-04). Add in his seven seasons at N.C. State, and Toman has helped lead 15 teams to NCAA Regional appearances.
Ole Miss Head Coach Mike Bianco begins his ninth season with the Rebels. In eight seasons, he has guided Ole Miss to seven post-season appearances in eight years, including hosting four-straight regionals and playing in three-straight Super Regionals in 2005, 2006 and 2007.
Last season, Bianco led the Rebels to a 39-26 record and a NCAA Regional appearance. Ole Miss has won 35 or more games each of Bianco's eight seasons in Oxford, and posted three-straight 40-win seasons, from 2005-2007, for the first time in school history.
South Alabama Head Coach Steve Kittrell heads into the 2009 season on the verge of history. In his 26 seasons of collegiate coaching, Kittrell has amassed 998 wins, two short from becoming the 50th NCAA coach to reach 1,000 wins. When the milestone happens, he will become the 37th Division I coach to reach 1,000. Among active coaches, he is in the Top 15 in all-time wins.
Kittrell, who returned to his alma mater in the summer of 1983, has led South Alabama to 18 NCAA Tournament appearances and 10 Sun Belt Conference championships. He has also directed the program to within one win of the College World Series six times. Last season, the Jaguars finished 32-26 under his guidance.
Mercer Head Coach Craig Gibson enters his sixth season with the Bears. Under his guidance, Mercer has experienced arguably some of its best seasons in the history of its program, posting above .500 marks in 2007 and 2006 for the first time since the 1982-83 seasons. Last season, the Bears went 24-33 and finished fifth in the Sun Belt Conference.

Most Victories by First-Year Coach at Liberty
With 35 wins in 2008, Liberty Head Coach Jim Toman became the winningest first-year coach in the program's history. Toman, the sixth head coach in the 35-year history of the Flames, led Liberty to a 35-26-1 mark in his first year, eclipsing the mark of Dave Pastors, the fourth head coach in program history. In 1998, his first season, Pastors led the Flames to a 32-29 record.

Following the Flames
This season, the Flames Sports Network plans to broadcast several Liberty baseball regular season games. Games will air live on WWMC 90.9 FM "The Light" and on the World Wide Web at both LibertyFlames.com and thelightonline.com. The schedule of games will be posted on thelightonline.com, when the station announces its broadcast schedule.
In addition, selected games will be video streamed live on the internet via the Big South Edge, available on BigSouthSports.com. The stream can be accessed by link on LibertyFlames.com or by going directly to BigSouthSports.com.
Live stats are available for each Liberty contest through LibertyFlames.com

Weekend Pitching Probables
Friday: Liberty - RHP Dustin Umberger vs. Ole Miss - RHP Aaron Barrett
Saturday Noon. : Liberty - LHP Steven Evans vs. South Alabama - LHP Brandon Sage
Saturday 7 p.m.: Liberty - RHP Mark Swanson vs. South Alabama - RHP Miles Etheridge
Sunday: Mercer - RHP Justice French vs. Liberty - RHP Shawn Teufel

All-Time Against Invitational Field
Friday will be the first-ever meeting between Liberty and Ole Miss on the baseball diamond. The last time, the Flames faced a SEC team was on Feb. 16, at the Crab House Shootout in Charleston, S.C. The South Carolina Gamecocks, who were ranked No.1 in the country at the time, defeated Liberty, 10-2.
On Saturday, the Flames and will meet host South Alabama twice. The morning contest will be the first meeting between the two squads. Liberty has not faced a Sun Belt team since the Flames shut out Florida International, 3-0, on Mar. 17, 1997 at the Homestead, Fla. Challenge.
On Sunday, Liberty will meet another first time opponent in the Mercer Bears. The last time the Flames met an Atlantic Sun Conference team, Liberty fell to Jacksonville, 5-1, on Mar. 13, 2001 in Jacksonville, Fla.

Liberty in Season Openers
Friday's contest against No. 12 Ole Miss will be Liberty's 34th season opener since 1976. The Flames have recorded a 23-10 record over the span.
Liberty has won four straight season openers, beginning with a 7-6 win over Old Dominion at Worthington Stadium on Feb. 15, 2005. Last season, the Flames defeated Notre Dame, 6-2, on Feb. 22 at the Clearwater Invitational in their season opening contest.
Since 2000, Liberty has a 7-2 mark in season openers.

Flames By the Month
Liberty will play eight contests in the month of February in 2009. The Flames have traditionally been successful in the month, with an all-time mark of 61-29.
Over the past three years, the Flames have had strong opening months. Last season, with the inception of the common staring date for college baseball, the Flames only played five contests in February, posting a 5-0 record, while Liberty started the 2007 campaign by posting a 7-3 mark in the second month of the year. In 2006, Liberty started its season by recording a 7-2 record in the month.

Many New Faces
The Liberty Flames will have 18 new members on their roster in 2009. Fifty percent of Liberty's roster will consist of first-year players. In addition, the Flames starting line-up will feature six new faces.
Of the first-year players, six are junior college transfers, 10 are freshmen and two are sophomores.

Flames Reach 30 Victories for Fourth Straight Season
There are several milestones upon which teams are measured in college baseball. One such milestone is winning 30 or more games in a season.
With its 8-1 victory over High Point on May 16 at Worthington Stadium, Liberty collected its 30th win of 2008 and went on to post a 35-26-1 record. It is the first time in the 35-year history of the program; Liberty has won 30 or more games in four consecutive seasons. The Flames started the run in 2005 with 36 wins, followed by a 39-victory season in 2006.
In 2007, Liberty won 36 games. It was the second time in school history; Liberty had posted 30 wins in three consecutive years. The Flames have reached 30 wins in a season 14 times in the program's 35-year history. Of the 14, 10 have come at the NCAA Division I level.

A Look Ahead
Liberty will travels to James Madison and No. 1 North Carolina for its first midweek games of 2009. The Flames will square off with the James Madison Dukes, a 2008 NCAA Regional participant, at Long Field/Mauck Stadium, Tuesday at 3 p.m. It will be the first of three meetings between the two teams during the year. On Wednesday, Liberty will face the No.1 ranked North Carolina Tar Heels, a 2008 College World Series participant, at Bryson Field at Boshamer Stadium.
The Flames return to Lynchburg on Saturday, Feb. 28 to open their 2009 home schdule. Jim Toman's squad will host the Manhattan Jaspers in a doubleheader Saturday afternoon at Worthington Stadium. The twinbill will begin at noon. The two teams will conclude the series the following day with a single game, beginning at 1 p.m.