Flame Train sweeps through Presbyterian for three straight wins
Struggling after four losses in five games, Liberty baseball needed to sweep Presbyterian to get its season back on track.
And that is exactly what it did, downing the Blue Hose in convincing fashion in three straight games Friday-Sunday, March 27-29.
Liberty’s bats came alive during Friday’s game against the Blue Hose, tallying 12 hits, including three home runs en route to a 9-5 opening game win.
Senior Alex Close was a one-man wrecking crew for the Flames, blasting two home runs and batting in six runs in the process.
A big fifth inning keyed the Flames to victory, as Close came to bat with the bases loaded early in the inning. The first baseman smacked the first pitch he saw over the
center-field fence for a grand slam to put the Flames ahead 6-5. Senior catcher Becker Sankey added a solo home run two at bats later to give the Flames a bigger cushion.
Senior long reliever Shawn Clowers shut the Blue Hose down after starter Parker Bean struggled, allowing no earned runs in 5 2/3 innings, striking out six to close things out.
Behind solid pitching from left-handed senior Jared Lyons and some late offense, the Flames added a second win, 4-1, in the series Saturday.
The Flames sealed the victory in front of more than 1,000 fans, who braved the cold and wind to watch their team. Lyons pitched a complete game, allowing six hits
and one run.
Though the game got off to a slow start offensively, the Flames began to hit their stride in the third inning. A single followed by a stolen base by senior center fielder Ashton Perritt put the Flames in scoring position, and Will Shepherd delivered the first blow to the Blue Hose. Shepherd, who went into the game hitting only .180, notched an RBI triple and scored Perritt to put the Flames on the board.
“Shepherd’s been hurt all year, … and he’s just now getting back to being the hitter that we know he is,” Flames Head Coach Jim Toman said. “… Getting (Perritt and Shepherd) back in the lineup, it gives a little bit of speed at the top. Their averages aren’t that high right now, but they’re starting to warm up a little bit, which is good to see.”
On the other side of the ball, Lyons continued to pitch a solid game. In the fifth inning, Lyons sat down three Presbyterian hitters in order. He also ended the sixth, seventh and eighth innings with strikeouts, finishing the game with eight total strikeouts.
“Right now, (Lyons is) throwing well, and we’ve just got to make sure we keep his pitch count down,” Toman said. “He threw a complete game in under 100 pitches. That’s pretty efficient, so really good job by Jared.”
In the seventh inning, Sankey added another run for the Flames on a solo home run to right field off a fastball.
“I knew I hit it pretty well,” Sankey said. “I know it was windy up there, but running down first, I had a pretty good idea it was going to go out once it kept just carrying and carrying.”
Sankey’s homer, which was helped out of the stadium by the wind, was his second in two days.
Perritt and Shepherd combined for another run in the eighth inning. Perritt stole second after getting walked, and Shepherd singled this time to send Perritt home.
Following the Flames offensive spurt, right-handed pitcher Ethan Wortkoetter came in to relieve David Sauer. But Wortkoetter only threw five pitches before he was done for the day, as Close immediately doubled and scored Shepherd. With Liberty up 4-0 late in the game, the Blue Hose looked to left hander Hayden Deal to finish the game.
After Deal struck out Flames junior shortstop Dalton Britt and Sankey to end the eighth, the Flames headed into the ninth with a little bit of a cushion.
In the final inning, sophomore second baseman Glen Casaceli scored Presbyterian’s first run on a wild pitch to make the score 4-1, which held up as the final score of the game. With the Casaceli run, Lyons’ streak of 24 straight innings without giving up a run came to an end.
According to Toman, his team, led by seniors Close and Sankey, has started to swing the bat well recently. However, although the Flames have made strides lately, Toman explained that they still have work to do.
“We’re not where we need to be offensively, but we’re better than we were,” Toman said.
While Toman said he is proud of the way his team played Saturday, he was quick to emphasize the need for taking every game seriously.
“If we don’t play well, we could find ourselves 1-5 or 2-4,” Toman said. “… You’ve got to be in the top eight (in the Big South) to go to the (conference) tournament, so every single conference series is really important.”
The Flames capped off the weekend with a 9-3 win Sunday, unleashing another offensive onslaught to pair with starting pitcher Victor Cole’s 10 strikeouts.
Sankey hit his third homer of the series to give him a team-leading seven on the season. Errors also helped spur on the Flames, as the Blue Hose made four gaffes in the field, leading to three additional runs.
Old Dominion will visit Lynchburg March 31 before the Flames head to Charleston Southern this weekend, where they will look to build on a four-game Big South winning streak.
BROWN is the editor-in-chief.