Burned by the ACC

Duke and Virginia take back-to-back games versus Flames

Last season, Liberty baseball went 3-4 against Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) opponents. Not a bad mark for a team in the smaller, less prestigious Big South.

However, last season was last season. The Flames dropped back-to-back home contests March 24 and 25 to Duke and Virginia to fall to 1-4 against ACC teams in 2015.

Cleanup — Catcher Becker Sankey drove in one run against Virginia. Photo credit: Leah Seavers

Cleanup — Catcher Becker Sankey drove in one run against Virginia. Photo credit: Leah Seavers

The Blue Devils downed the Flames 3-1 in the first of the two matchups, limiting the Flames to just five hits, while the latter game was a hit parade with Virginia and Liberty combining for 24 hits in a 10-7 Cavaliers victory.

Senior Ashton Perritt, who is also the Flames everyday center fielder, pitched one of his best games of the year for the Flames, allowing two earned runs over 5 1/3 innings, but ultimately still earned the loss.

“It’s always good to be able to keep your team in the game,” Perritt said. “Early on (in the season), I was taking our team out of the game, but it’s good to keep our hitters in the game. It’s encouraging.”

A collection of five pitchers combined to allow only one run for the Blue Devils with Ryan Day earning the win in just 1 1/3 innings of work.

Alex Close’s play was the lone bright spot for the Flames offensively as he went 2-3 with a double. Close also continued to be effective as a spot-reliever, striking out four Blue Devils in 2 2/3 innings of work.

Unlike Tuesday’s game, it was one big inning that spelled doom for the Flames against the Cavaliers in Wednesday’s contest. Virginia scored six runs in the top of the fourth inning on a collection of bunts and bloop hits that kept finding the holes in the Flames defense.

“I don’t know if I’ve ever been a part of an inning like that on defense,” Close said. “I felt bad for (pitcher Michael Stafford). He was out there pitching his butt off and I think they had like three or four (bloop hits), and if those are a couple feet either way, we are right in that game at the end.”

As much as that inning could have sucked the life out of the Flames — Virginia led 9-0 going into the bottom of the fourth — they continued to fight back, cutting the deficit to 10-6 entering the ninth inning.

Perritt led off the final inning with a solo homer to bring the Flames within three runs, and two batters later Close nearly brought the Flames within one. But Close’s near-homer landed in the glove of Cavaliers leftfielder Pavin Smith at the warning track, effectively extinguishing the Flames rally.

“(That ball is gone) 10 out of 10 (times),” Close said. “I don’t know what else I have to do.”

Close’s hot bat carried over from the Duke game, going 3-4 with two RBIs against Virginia. Despite the loss, his team’s ability to fight back, as well as their lively bats, encouraged Flames Head Coach Jim Toman.

“I’m proud of the guys,” Toman said. “That was probably our best game all year offensively. If you can get anything out of a loss, it was that our guys competed and didn’t quit and came back and swung the bats extremely well.”

The Flames will look to improve their record against teams from the ACC when they travel to Chapel Hill to take on North Carolina April 8. The matchup with the Tar Heels marks the first of four remaining games with ACC foes, the others being a home-and-away with Maryland and a rematch with Virginia in Charlottesville.

TICHENOR is the sports editor.

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