Flames take the series 2-1 at home
Liberty baseball (6-4) defeated the University of Connecticut (4-3) 8-5 Friday, March 4, in the Liberty Baseball Stadium.
Parker Bean started the game on the mound for the Flames. He struggled with his control as he was forced to throw 33 pitches in the first inning alone, 18 of them being balls.
After giving up a hit and walking two in a row, UConn had one out and the bases loaded. Liberty shortstop Andrew Kowalo dropped the ball on what would have been a double play to end the inning. Instead, a run scored and the bases remained loaded with a single out.
Bean struck out the next batter to save a potentially detrimental opening inning and then threw out Bobby Melley trying to steal home after a passed ball.
Head Coach Jim Toman said the team recently worked on retrieving wild pitches to throw them to the plate in practice.
“We were fortunate to get out of that first inning with only one run, it didn’t look good,” Toman said. “It isn’t the ideal way to get out of an inning (on a passed ball), but at that point we’ll take it because we couldn’t afford to get behind that much.”
Pre-season All-American Anthony Kay took his 0.75 ERA to the mound to start for the Huskies. He walked the first batter he faced, but then sat down eight in a row.
Liberty’s bats came alive in the third inning during a two-out rally. Freshman D.J. Artis started things off with a single, then was brought home by an Eric Grabowski double. Will Shepherd followed that up with an RBI single to right field.
Andrew Yacyk extended the inning with a base hit to center field, advancing Shepherd to third base. Two more runs scored off of a Kowalo double to center field, putting the Flames up 4-1.
“Our guys did a nice job with (Kay) and they were fired up,” Toman said. “They rose to the occasion because that might be the best pitcher we’ve faced all year.”
Shepherd said the four runs in the third inning opened the door for a Flames win.
“Putting runs on the board with two outs was a huge momentum swing,” Shepherd said. “I think after that we kind of knew that the game was in our hands from there.”
Carson Herndon came in to pitch for Liberty in the fourth inning after Bean walked three in a row. Herndon successfully escaped the bases loaded situation he was put into by striking out Troy Stefanski. Herndon would finish the game with eight strikeouts, one away from his career high.
“I was pumped to see him get up there on the mound and get us out of that,” Shepherd said. “To pitch the way he did the rest of the game, that was awesome.”
UConn came within one run of tying the game in the fifth inning off of a two-run Bobby Melley home run that hit off of the foul pole in right field.
In the bottom half of the inning, Artis began a rally by getting walked on a full count. After a Grabowski base hit, Shepherd hit a two RBI single to center field. Later in the inning, Dalton Britt brought Shepherd home with an RBI double, pushing the Flames lead to 7-3.
The lead was never in danger as the Flames went on to win 8-5. Herndon, who sat out last season with an injury, earned the win on the mound.
“It broke my heart last year to not be out with the guys,” Herndon said. “I think tonight was the first time I’ve been extended past 50 or 60 pitches since April of 2014. It was big for me and I hope it was big for the team.”
Artis reached base all five times he batted and started the rally in both the third and fifth innings.
“He has the maturity of a junior or a senior when he’s at the plate right now which is good for a freshman,” Toman said. “He’s a good player.”
The win saw Liberty snap a two-game losing streak.
Game 2: UConn 7, Liberty 5 (F/11)
Saturday, the Huskies rallied late to send the game into extra innings, then scored two runs in the top of the 11th inning to grab a 7-5 win over the Flames. Liberty jumped out to a 5-0 lead in the first three innings before UConn came back with four runs in the sixth and seventh innings. Flames righty Evan Mitchell tossed five scoreless innings before exiting after throwing 98 pitches. The Huskies tied the game in the top of the ninth with a solo home run from right fielder Joe DeRouche-Duffin.
Nico Darras (1-0) got the win for the Huskies and Cole (0-1) took the loss for the Flames.
Game 3: Liberty 5, UConn 4
Liberty bounced back in the rubber match Sunday thanks to a strong pitching performance from right-hander Zander Clouse. He allowed four runs on six hits, striking out three and walking two through 7 2/3 innings of work to get the win and move to 2-0 on the season. Designated hitter Nick Walker drove in a career-high three runs to carry the Flames offense.
The Huskies struck early as center fielder Jack Sundberg hit a leadoff homerun in the top of the first inning. The Flames tied the game at one in the bottom of the second, then took a 3-2 lead in the fifth after the Huskies scored in the third. They extended their lead to three in the bottom of the sixth.
The Huskies staged a rally against Clouse in the top of the eighth, scoring two runs to pull within one run. DeRouche-Duffin ripped a two-out, two-run double down the third base line to cut the Liberty lead to 5-4.
The Huskies put the tying run in scoring position with two outs in the ninth, but Quarterley forced third baseman Willy Yahn to ground into a fielder’s choice to grab his second save of the season and give the Flames the series win.
The Flames next home game is Friday, March 11, at 5 p.m. as they host Central Connecticut State at the Liberty Baseball Stadium to begin the La Quinta Inn & Suites Liberty Invitational.
Keating is a sports reporter.