Alex Close connects for one of his two hits, Saturday. Close was named to the Big South Tournament's All-Conference team.
The No. 1 seeded Coastal Carolina Chanticleers rode three first-inning runs to a 4-1 win over the No. 3 seeded Liberty Flames, Saturday afternoon in the Big South Baseball Championship game at Willard Stadium.
Liberty ends its season with a 41-19 record. It is the second time during head coach Jim Toman's five years at the helm of the Flames program and third in school history that Liberty has posted 40 or more in a season. Coastal Carolina moves to 41-17 overall and earns the Big South's automatic berth to the NCAA Tournament.
Coastal Carolina, the home team on the scoreboard, sent all nine men to the plate in the opening frame, jumping to an early advantage. Left fielder Ted Blackman singled and center fielder Jacob May reached on a bunt single to start the inning. After both runners moved up on a bunt by right fielder Daniel Bowman, first baseman Rich Witten received an intentional walk to load the bases. Designated hitter Alex Buccilli followed by lining a single through the right side of the infield, plating two runs for a 2-0 edge. Two batters later, second baseman Justin Creel singled to produce a run and give the Chanticleers a 3-0 lead. In the top of the third, Liberty pushed across a run. Shortstop Zack Haley lined a leadoff double down the left field line and moved to third on a bunt single by left fielder Ian Parmley. Haley then scored on a double play grounder by center fielder Andy Smith, cutting the Coastal Carolina edge to 3-1. The Flames looked to inch closer in the fourth, only to come away empty due to an outstanding defensive play by the Chanticleers. Second baseman Bryan Aanderud and designated hitter Tyler Cox walked to open the inning. However, relief pitcher Ryan Connolly, who just entered the game, made a diving grab off a bunt popped up by catcher Trey Wimmer and caught Aanderud off second for a double play, ending the threat.
In the top of the sixth, Liberty put runners on the corners with one out, but once again came away without a run. First baseman Alex Close led off the frame with a single and two batters later, ended up on third base on a single by Cox. But, Connolly was able to strike out the next two Flames to keep the Chanticleers in front by two runs. In the bottom of the sixth, Coastal Carolina put two men aboard with one out, but was unable to extend its lead. Catcher Tucker Frawley and Creel drew one out walks to reach base. Reliever Patrick Bankemper was summoned from the Liberty bullpen and retired the next two Chanticleer batters to keep the score at 3-1.
Coastal Carolina then gave itself a three-run cushion with a run in the seventh. Blackman opened the inning with a single and moved to second base on a sacrifice bunt by May. After Blackman stole third base, Witten lifted a sacrifice fly to up the Chanticleer lead to 4-1.
The Flames rallied in the ninth, bringing the tying run to the plate. Wimmer led off the inning with a single. Two batters later, Haley dropped a one-out single into left. Coastal Carolina called Ben Smith from the bullpen and proceeded to retire the next two Liberty batters to close out a 4-1 victory for the Chanticleers.
Liberty starting pitcher John Niggli ends the year at 9-4. The senior right-hander allowed three runs on eight hits over 5 1/3 innings. The first of three Flames pitchers in the game, he walked four batters.
Coastal Carolina's Connolly moves to 5-2 on the year. The reliever pitched 5 1/3 scoreless innings, scattering five hits. He struck out five batters and walked one. Smith retired both batters he faced to record his third save of the season.
Liberty collected 10 hits. Close, who earned all-tournament honors, and shortstop Zack Haley each had two hits for the Flames. Coastal Carolina had nine hits in the contest. Blackman led all hitters in the contest with three hits.
Liberty left 10 men on base, while Coastal Carolina left seven stranded.
Close, Wimmer and pitcher Patrick Eckelbarger were named to the 2012 All-Tournament team. The team appears below:
P: Aaron Burke, Coastal Carolina (co-MVP) P: Ryan Connolly, Coastal Carolina (co-MVP) P: Patrick Eckelbarger, Liberty P: Beau Hilton, Gardner-Webb DH: Alex Buccilli, Coastal Carolina OF: Daniel Bowman, Coastal Carolina OF: Devin Bujnovsky, High Point OF: Benji Jackson, Gardner-Webb INF: Rich Witten, Coastal Carolina INF: Alex Close, Liberty INF: Ryan Retz, High Point INF: Dusty Quattlebaum, Gardner-Webb C: Trey Wimmer, Liberty UTL: Spencer Angelis, High Point