Tyler Light earned his first victory of the season Sunday.
Locked in a pitcher's duel, Jeff Jefferson's infield single in the eighth inning plated P.J. Jimenez with the winning run, as the Liberty Flames downed the Mercer Bears, 3-2, Sunday morning in the sixth game of the Coca-Cola Classic in Mobile, Ala. The Flames captured the Coca-Cola Classic title later in the day, as host South Alabama defeated Ole Miss. With its third straight victory, Liberty runs its record to 3-1, while Mercer falls to 1-2. The Flames win the 2009 Coca-Cola Classic Crown after posting a 2-1 mark in the tournament and winning their head-to-head contest with South Alabama, who also had a 2-1 record in the mark.
For the second straight season, the Flames open the year with a winning record at a tournament. Liberty went 3-1 in this year's Coca-Cola Classic, while last season, the Flames opened 3-0 at the Clearwater Invitational. Mercer, the visitors on the scoreboard, scored the game's first run in the top of the third inning. Leadoff hitter Sean Olenek struck out, but reached on a wild pitch to open the frame. The Bears' left fielder then advanced to second on a sacrifice bunt by the next hitter, center fielder Billy Burns. Second baseman Michael Langley followed by dropping a double between Liberty left fielder Jefferson (So., Danville, Va.) and center fielder Curran Redal (Jr., Moses Lake, Wash.), moving Olenek to third base. Designated hitter Joe Winker plated the Bears' first run with a RBI grounder to second base for a 1-0 advantage. In the bottom of the frame, the Flames answered with two runs to take a 2-1 lead. First baseman Trey Wimmer (Fr., Greenwood, S.C.) singled to left field and shortstop Matt Williams (Fr., Franklin, Tenn.) walked to open the home half of the third inning. Second baseman Jimenez (Jr., Yucaipa, Calif.) followed with a RBI single to right to cash in Wimmer, tying the contest at 1-1. Williams made it 2-1 Liberty, scoring when the next batter, right fielder Tim Rotola (Sr., Wichita, Kan.), grounded into a double play. Mercer knotted the game in the top of the sixth inning. Langley led off the frame with a bunt single and moved to second base on a sacrifice bunt by Winker. After a ground out, right fielder Thomas Carroll singled up the middle to bring home Langley and even the contest at 2-2. Liberty loaded the bases with two outs against Bear starter Justice French in the bottom of the frame. However, the right hander was able to get the next Flame batter to ground into a fielder's choice to get out of the inning. In the top of the seventh inning, Mercer mounted a threat. First baseman John Moreland led off the frame with a single and advanced to second on a sacrifice bunt by Olenek. Moreland moved to third on a ground out, but Liberty starter Steven Evans (So., LHP, Amherst, Va.) struck out pinch hitter Steven Karwatt to strand the runner. Liberty pushed the game-winning run across in the eighth. Jimenez was hit by a pitch to open the inning and moved to second base on a sacrifice by Rotola. After a pitching change, Jimenez moved to third base on a ground out by Redal. Mercer made another pitching change, before Jefferson laced a single off the Bear third baseman to score Jimenez and put the Flames in front, 3-2. Reliever Tyler Light (Sr., San Bernardino, Calif.) pitched a scoreless ninth, sealing the third consecutive win for the Flames. Evans did not factor in the decision for Liberty. The left-hander gave up two runs on six hits over seven innings. He struck out six and did not walk a Bear batter. Light records the win in his first appearance of the season. The right-hander pitched two scoreless frames of relief, allowing two hits and striking out two batters. French did not figure in the decision either. The Mercer right-hander allowed two runs on three hits in six frames of work. He struck out two Liberty batters and walked three. Michael Shaw, the second of four Bears to take the mound in the contest, takes the loss. He allowed one run on one hit in 1 1/3 innings. Jimenez had two hits for Liberty, while Mercer hitters Langley and Carroll had two hits each. The Flames travel to Harrisonburg, Va., Tuesday, to face the James Madison Dukes. First pitch is scheduled for 3 p.m.