Flames shortstop Cam Locklear leads baseball team to victory over Seton Hall
With one out in the third inning and the bases loaded, Liberty Flames senior shortstop Cam Locklear knew exactly what pitch to look for. When Seton Hall’s right-hander David Espinal threw him the changeup, Locklear sat back and unloaded on the ball. Three hundred and sixty feet later, the ball sailed over the right field fence, a grand slam that opened a 4-1 lead for the Flames.
Liberty (3-4) beat Seton Hall (3-3) 5-3 on Sunday night, winning the weekend series 2-1. Every game in the series was decided by one or two runs, and for the Flames, offensive and defensive production came at crucial times to get the win. But no hit was more important that Locklear’s bases-clearing home run.
“Cam Locklear freshman or sophomore year might have hit that ball foul,” Head Coach Scott Jackson said. “But he slowed down and sat back and trusted his hands, and that is great to see. That kid has been as steady as we’ve had over the last two years and I’m excited for him.”
To hold the lead, relief pitcher Garrett Price entered the game in the fifth inning, relieving starter Joe Adametz, with runners on first and second with two outs. Price hit Casey Dana, the first batter he faced, to load the bases before a critical strikeout ended the inning with no trouble.
But after a stress-free sixth, Price got himself into trouble again in the seventh. Price loaded the bases with two walks and a single but avoided any damage with another crucial strikeout.
“This year so far, I have had a lot of walks, and that has been frustrating,” Price said. “I have been falling behind with my changeup, so it was great to get the punchout with that pitch and get it back in the zone. I was happy with the way I got out of it, not happy with the way I got into it.”
Price has an uncharacteristic 10 walks so far this season, but as an experienced senior, he feels comfortable finding his way out of tough spots.
“Garrett is frustrated, but when it comes time to have to make a pitch, that’s what veteran players do and he did it,” Jackson said. “He’s probably been giving away too many free bases, but he’s making pitches when he has to.”
Offensively, the Flames 10 hits Sunday were the most they have recorded in a game so far this season, and Locklear, who doubled and walked in addition to his grand slam, is happy with the way his team is producing offensively.
“It’s starting to really come around,” Locklear said. “We have some veteran guys in there, and we are going to continue to build and get better.”
In the opening game of the series Friday, Flames starting pitcher Mason Meyers gave up seven hits and two earned runs and recorded the loss in Seton Hall’s 5-4 win. In the next game, however, all the pitching went Liberty’s way.
Starter Noah Skirrow picked up his first win of the season, giving up only three hits and no earned runs in 6.1 innings pitched. He struck out six batters and has lowered his season ERA to 0.48.
Situational hitting by catcher Brady Gulakowski and first baseman Garrett Wilkinson was enough to get three runs across the plate, giving the Flames a 3-2 win, evening the series before they took the series Sunday.
With every game won by two runs or less, the Flames are using these contests to grow and improve. Locklear believes pressure is important now to help the team be ready for later tournaments.
“We are dealing with pressure right now, which is good for us and will help us later in the year,” Locklear said. “It keeps you on your toes and that’s how it should be.”
But as his team continues to grind out tough wins, Jackson is slowly getting a clearer picture of his team’s identity moving forward.
“That’s what brings out what you got,” Jackson said. “Those are the kind of games you want to play. I would not know much about our team if we were blowing people out. Every game we have played this season has been between one and three runs, and we want those pressure moments for our players to find out what they have inside them.”
The Flames welcome Longwood to Worthington Field this upcoming Tuesday, Feb. 25. First pitch is scheduled for 4 p.m.
Wylie is the asst. sports editor for the Liberty Champion. Follow him on Twitter @chadewylie