Michael Solbach pitched his first complete game of the season and the Liberty Flames used a pair of solo home runs and two run-scoring singles in the sixth inning to overcome a three-run deficit for an 8-5 win over VMI in Big South Conference action Friday at Worthington Stadium.
With the win in the first game of the three-game weekend series, Liberty improves to 19-8 overall and 1-3 in the conference, while VMI falls to 20-7 and 2-2 in league play.
Liberty hurler Solbach (Woodbridge, Va.) earned his first complete game of the season, allowing five runs, four earned, on eight hits to run his record to 5-1. The right-hander also struck out a season-high 10 Keydets and yielded one walk on the afternoon. VMI starter Trey Barham took the loss to drop to 4-2 on the season. The sophomore was charged with six runs on eight hits, working 5.2 innings while striking out five.
The two teams traded runs throughout the early innings, with Liberty answering VMI ‘s single runs in the first and fourth frames. In the first inning, the Keydets opened the scoring on a RBI single by first baseman Robert Crumpler, while the Flames countered on a two-out RBI single by Phillip Laurent (Sr., LF, Cantrall, Ill.). In the fourth, after being hit by a pitch and moving to second on a passed ball, Kelly Sweppenhiser scored VMI's second run of the day on a RBI single to center by Jacoby Fields. Liberty knotted the score at 2-2 in the bottom half of the inning on a solo home run by Derek Bennion (r-Jr., DH, Snohomish, Wash.), his second of the year.
The Keydets went back on top in the fifth inning. Will Smith reached on an infield single deep to the hole between the shortstop and third baseman. The Keydet designated hitter advanced to second on a hit-and-run ground out and scored on a RBI single to center field by Chad Rice.
VMI upped its lead to 5-2 in the top of the sixth. Sweppenhiser led off the inning for the Keydets with a solo home run over the right center field wall, his fourth of the season. VMI later in the inning added a second run on a RBI single to center by B.T. Good.
In the bottom of the sixth inning, the Flames would bat around, plating four runs to take the lead. Aaron Grijalva (r-So., 1B, Redlands, Calif.) led off the frame with his fourth home run of the season, a solo shot to left center to close the gap to 5-3. Two batters later, P.K. Keller (So., CF, St. Petersburg, Va.) connected for his second home run of the season over the right center field wall to cut the Keydet advantage to one. With two outs, Liberty struck for two more runs to go in front, 6-5. Phil John (Jr., RF, Linwood, N.J.) singled and advanced to second on a passed ball. Errol Hollinger (Fr., C, Upland, Calif.) then singled to center to chase home the Flames' right fielder to knot the game at 5-5. Patrick Gaillard (Jr., SS, Taylors, S.C.) followed with a RBI single to left field to score Hollinger and put Liberty ahead.
The Flames added two more in the eighth inning. After Hollinger was hit by a pitch, Gaillard tripled to the right center field gap, chasing home the catcher for a 7-5 lead. The Liberty shortstop then beat the throw to the plate by the Keydet pitcher on a squeeze bunt by Chad Miller (Sr., 3B, Wheat Ridge, Colo.) to make it 8-5.
Gaillard, Grijalva and Keller each had two hits on the afternoon for the Flames, while Rice and Sweppenhiser each had two hits for the Keydets
Game two of the three-game Big South series between VMI and Liberty is slated for 2 p.m. tomorrow at Worthington Stadium.