Flames pitcher Mason Hand dominates in Liberty victory over Radford
After missing the entire 2019 season recovering from Tommy John surgery, Liberty Flames pitcher Mason Hand dominated Radford in his first start of the season, allowing only one hit in five scoreless innings on Wednesday.
Leading the team to its first win of the season, Hand relied on an early lead and strong defense to get through the Highlanders lineup as the Flames beat Radford 4-2.
“I thought Mason did a really good job attacking with his fastball, especially early on,” Flames Head Coach Scott Jackson said. “He had a good, clean first inning and a great second inning and gave himself a chance to settle in.”
Hand was able to keep his pitch count low by allowing Radford batters to make contact, trusting his defense to get the stops they needed.
“The defense tonight was unbelievable,” Hand said. “I understand that I have to trust those guys, and they perform every night. I was able to attack the hitters and get the ball up in the air knowing they are going to be able to get those outs.”
That defensive performance proved crucial in the fifth inning, where Hand was looking to end his outing with no runs allowed.
With a four-run lead in the fifth inning, the Highlanders were in a position to score with a runner at second with two outs. Colby Higgerson singled to left field and Tanner Barris attempted to run home. But Flames left fielder Gray Betts picked up the lined ball and delivered a pinpoint throw to home. After a challenge and video review, Barris was ruled out and the inning was over, as Hand headed to the dugout and Jackson turned the game over to the bullpen with a 4-0 lead.
Jackson looked back on that moment after Radford attempted a late comeback in the final innings.
“For (Gray) to be able to make a play for us in what ended up being a close game was huge,” Jackson said. “You look at it and it’s a different deal there in the ninth inning if we end up with the tying run there at first base.”
“The defense tonight was unbelievable,” Hand said. “I understand that I have to trust those guys, and they perform every night. I was able to attack the hitters and get the ball up in the air knowing they are going to be able to get those outs.”Mason Hand, Flames pitcher
Offensively, the Flames looked to third baseman Ben Highfill to generate their production. Coming up to bat in the first and second innings, Highfill singled twice, batting in three runs and giving the Flames a lead they held onto.
“We had some offensive struggles last weekend,” Highfill said. “So it was good to get a couple hits tonight, and I was able to capitalize on those opportunities.”
The Flames bats jumped on Radford starter Hunter Williams, who gave up four earned runs on five hits and left the game with two outs in the second inning. But the Highlanders bullpen locked in after that, allowing only three hits and no runs combined.
As the Highlanders game intensified, the Flames bullpen allowed Radford back into the contest. Both David Erickson and Garret Price allowed a run, before Landon Riley took the mound in the eighth inning to record his four-out save.
Happy to be home after their loss to Clemson last weekend, the Flames will welcome Seton Hall for a three-game weekend series Feb. 21-23 as part of a nine-game home stand. But Jackson now knows that he has a midweek starter he can count on for the whole season.
“I’m seeing things that are really encouraging to have a midweek starter like that,” Jackson said. “You got to have that to be able to get into the postseason. If I could have drawn up Mason Hand’s first start (coming off Tommy John’s), tonight is what it would have looked like.”
Chad Wylie is the asst. sports editor for the Liberty Champion. Follow him on Twitter @chadewylie