Back in action
Flames sweep Bulldogs in a three-game series
The Liberty Flames won the game 3-2 over the Bryant Bulldogs after gaining two runs in an unorthodox way on Friday, Feb. 27 at Liberty Baseball stadium.
With a freshman pinch hitter at the plate, runners on the corners and two outs, Liberty Head Coach Jim Toman cooked up a plan to tie the game by drawing a throw to second to advance the runner on third. Fortunately that plan did not work exactly the way planned and the Flames scored two instead of one.
“You don’t take wins for granted,” Toman said. “It’s hard to win in college baseball, and we are happy we won. Sometimes it is better to be lucky than good.”
The Flames started the game with Jared Lyons on the mound, and he was throwing heat until he was pulled in the sixth inning after feeling some tightness in his arm.
Lyons left the game with the Flames down 1-0, but he had only given up three hits and had nine strikeouts. Shawn Clowers came in to relieve Lyons and picked up right where Lyons left off, striking out the first two batters he faced.
“They all pitched great and they gave us a chance to win, we just got to score more runs,” Toman said. “Our offense is not where it needs to be right now.”
In the top of the eighth, just after Clowers struck out his fourth batter for the second out of the inning, Cole Fabio hit a line drive up the middle to bring in AJ Zarozny from second. Clowers retired the next batter, but the damage was done. The Flames were now going to the bottom of the eighth down a run once again with not much offensive production to show for on the day.
“I felt like I gave us a chance to win,” Clowers said. “I gave up the run for them to take the lead, and I was sweating it a little in the dugout. … But fortunately, we were able to turn it around pretty quickly.”
The bottom of the eighth inning was an interesting one for the Flames because Liberty had two runners reach base on walks from James Karinchak, and after a wild pitch and a groundout, the Flames had James Shepherd on third and Tray Johnson on first, pinch running for Sankey.
Johnson started the chaos when he took off from first, and he got halfway to second when Logan Lessard turned and caught him in the middle. At this point, Shepherd jumped from third, causing Lessard to whip a throw over to the third basemen. But the throw was wild, and it got far enough away that Shepherd took off toward home. The third basemen finally recovered the ball and launched it toward home, but his throw went over the catcher’s head and Shepherd was safe. All the while, Johnson was running for his life and came sliding in right behind Shepherd for the go-ahead run.
“Tray never stopped, and he can run — that’s one thing he can do — and he came around and scored,” Toman said.
That play was the decider in a game that had only two earned runs by either team. The freshman pinch hitter at the plate struck out immediately following the play, and just like that, the Flames were three outs away from victory.
“I hear all the time players win games, but the coaches win the close games, and that was a great call,” Clowers said.
The top of the ninth was no stress-free outing for the Flames defense, however, as the first batter singled and the second grounded out but advanced the runner into scoring position. The next batter hit a deep line drive, but Josh Close made the catch and the Flames were one out away from victory. The next batter was walked to put the go ahead run on first for the Bulldogs, and finally, it came down to John Mullen, whom Clowers struck out to end the game.
Roberts said the Flames still have plenty to work on right now and will try to “sneak (in) some wins” in the meantime, but they will figure it out and go from there.
Liberty and Bryant combined for 21 runners left on base and were 2-20 with runners in scoring position. Both teams were 0-3 combined with the bases loaded and had eight batters strike out looking.
The two Liberty pitchers combined for 14 strikeouts, and the two also had one earned run apiece. The three Bryant pitchers combined for 11 strikeouts and zero earned runs, but the three errors for Bryant killed them in the end.
“The way we pitched, we certainly deserved to win, but offensively, I don’t think we did enough to win,” Toman said. “But sometimes there’s a little bit of luck involved, and the good Lord was looking down on us on that play.”
Game 2: Liberty 6, Bryant 1
Junior lefty pitcher Victor Cole took a no-hitter into the ninth inning against the Bulldogs before giving up a double to the first batter he faced in the final inning.
Cole dominated all afternoon, wrapping up a complete-game victory with eight strikeouts, allowing only the single hit.
Errors once again marred a quality pitching performance by the Bulldogs pitchers, who did not yield a single earned run.
Senior first baseman Alex Close led the Flames with two hits on the day, including an RBI double in the third inning to put the Flames up 2-0.
Game 3: Liberty 11, Bryant 4
Freshman outfielder Josh Close did his part to remove himself from his brother’s shadow in the Flames 11-4 Sunday win, smashing a second-inning grand slam over the left field wall to give the Flames a comfortable 5-0 lead early in the game.
The brother of Flames standout first baseman Alex Close, Josh Close has enjoyed a strong start to his first year at Liberty, hitting .308, including a grand slam and a triple, while starting four of the Flames first nine games.
Last year’s freshman sensation pitcher Parker Bean also got the win, but struggled with command, walking seven batters and giving up four earned runs in five innings.
SCHMIEG is a sports reporter.
TICHENOR is the sports editor.