Golden Griffins edge out Flames 2-1 in series

With the bases loaded and one out in the ninth inning, the Flames had the winning run at the plate against the Canisius Golden Griffins Saturday, March 10, at the Liberty Baseball Stadium.

The home crowd of 1,280 cheered as Liberty catcher Matt Allen came to the plate. Allen had come on to pinch hit in a similar situation in the fifth inning, but with that at-bat he lifted the first pitch he saw to right field and left three Flames on base with Canisius up 4-2.

With his team now down by three runs in the ninth, Allen had a chance for revenge.

But in a game of missed opportunities for the Flames, Golden Griffins closer Tyler Smith got Allen to fly out again.

Smith then struck out shortstop Cam Locklear to preserve a 7-4 Canisius victory.

The Flames (8-7) left 13 runners on base, including 10 in scoring position, while the Golden Griffins (10-3) got some timely hits and rode clutch pitching performances to a fourth consecutive win.

“You’ve got to realize, as a player, the pressure is on the mound when there’s two or three runners out there in big situations,” Flames head coach Scott Jackson said. “(You’ve got) to relax and not try to do too much…Canisius has done that and, unfortunately, we haven’t.”

The Golden Griffins produced key hits throughout the game, including Preziuso’s two out 2-RBI single in the eighth inning that extended Canisius’ lead to 7-4.

“When you (allow) clutch hits like that, it’s hard to stop,” Flames center fielder D.J. Artis said. “We just couldn’t bounce back from it today.”

Artis, a junior and the team’s leadoff hitter, was a bright spot for the Liberty offense, as he reached base three times in five plate appearances. He hit the ball off the wall in right field twice, getting a two-out double in the second and a stand-up triple to start the bottom of the fifth inning.

Artis said he was hoping that at least one of the two hits would become his first home run of the season. Instead, he had to settle for raising his batting average in 2018 to a respectable .268, while stealing his seventh base and scoring his 16th run in 15 games.

“(I’m) just trying to let the game come to me,” Artis said. “I feel like I’ve been pressing a little bit lately. Just trying to stay calm and play baseball.”

Junior catcher Tre Todd, the Flames RBI leader with 19, drove in McDyre and Locklear in the sixth inning with a one-out double that made it 5-4. After a groundout, though, first baseman Dylan Allen struck out, leaving Todd at third base.

“We just have to do better hitting with runners in scoring position,” Artis said.

The Flames never led, as Canisius jumped on Liberty starter Jackson Bertsch early with two runs on three hits in the top of the first inning.

The Flames responded with a run in the bottom half as Todd scored on a one-out single by designated hitter Andrew Yacyk and an errant throw by Canisius right fielder Mark McKenna.

With the score 2-1, Bertsch settled down with three straight scoreless innings in which he struck out three and allowed only a double and two walks.

“He left a few pitches out there that I think he’d like to have back, but Jackson (Bertsch is) a competitor,” Jackson said. “He’s a veteran guy for us. He pitched us into the seventh and gave us a chance to win, so anytime you can do that as a starter, I think you’ve done your job.”

The Golden Griffins broke through in the fifth inning with an RBI double by designated hitter Liam Wilson and an RBI sacrifice fly by first baseman Ryan Stekl, extending the Canisius lead to 4-1.

Artis scored in the bottom half of the inning to cut the deficit to two runs. Two walks and a hit-by-pitch set up Allen’s first at-bat with the bases loaded.

Canisius took advantage of Flames third baseman Tyler Galazin’s throwing error with two outs to push their lead to 5-2 in the top of the sixth inning.

“Defense is always a huge priority in our program,” Jackson said. “Unfortunately, Tyler threw a couple balls away today. Any time you make errors with two outs, it’s just hard to maintain any momentum in this game and Canisius has had it all weekend.”

The Golden Griffins also handed the Flames a 9-2 loss in the series opener Friday, March 9.

On Sunday, March 11, in a 1 p.m. matchup against the Golden Griffins, Liberty claimed a 5-4 victory in the bottom of the 11th inning after junior infielder Tyler Galazin hit a home run.

“We need to get a lead and play with a little more moxie,” Jackson said. “We just haven’t done that yet.”

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