Baseball’s Offense Stymied Against Duke

No teams have managed to shut Liberty baseball out this season. No teams until Duke, that is. 

The Blue Devils trounced the Flames 7-0 April 20, ending Liberty’s 16-game win streak at home. The streak dated back to before the 2020 season was cut short by COVID-19.

Senior pitcher Dylan Cumming was often the lone bright spot in an otherwise difficult outing for the Flames. Through the first five innings of the game, Cumming’s pitches were precise and controlled. He was having a great second start of his career in a Liberty uniform, throwing near untouchable off-speed pitches.

Through the first five innings, Cumming secured seven strikeouts, limiting the Blue Devils to zero runs. Knowing Duke’s aggressive game plan at the plate, Cumming succeeded at keeping the ball low and making Duke batters chase his pitches. 

Cummings looked confident. But then things changed.

Once the sixth inning began, Cumming’s pitches started to lose their rhythm. He struggled to keep the ball low, making it easier for the Blue Devils to make contact. After a single to shallow left field and a batter walked, Cumming had allowed two men on base without any outs.

Next up to bat was the power-hitting Duke junior outfielder R.J. Schreck. In a full 3-2 count, Cumming correctly placed the ball, but Schreck still managed to smash the ball hard to left field for a three-run home run. This put Duke ahead 3-0 and changed the tone for the rest of the game.

Cumming admitted to complacency in the sixth inning and even felt he got greedy.

“I knew he was an aggressive hitter. The whole lineup was aggressive,” Cumming said. “I felt like I got a little complacent with my spotting and got too greedy with hitting the spot, instead of just being aggressive and throwing through with it, which inevitably got me in trouble there. It was a good swing on a pitch that I got where I wanted to.”

After the home run, Liberty Head Coach Scott Jackson gave Cumming one more chance to face a batter, whom he struck out. After that, Jackson could see his fatigue and swapped him out for junior relief pitcher Fraser Ellard.

Ellard, who has been an model of consistency all season, struggled in the eighth inning, allowing Duke to load the bases with zero outs. The Blue Devils capitalized on the opportunity to blow the game open and scored four runs, making it 7-0 in favor of Duke. 

The Flames struggled the rest of the way on both sides of the ball. The team had only five hits all game.

Despite the home run in the sixth inning, Jackson was impressed with Cumming’s first five innings of pitching, saying he is the key piece to rounding out the starting pitcher rotation as the team prepares to head into the ASUN playoffs in less than a month.

“(He’s) a guy that’s a mid-week starter that can get you to the back half of the game, and we’re sitting there scoreless at zero (through the first five innings), on a night where I didn’t think we looked very good offensively,” Jackson said. “But that’s a really good thing for us going forward. In postseason play, you’re going to have to have that fourth starter.”

Liberty beat Coastal Carolina 2-1 in a three-game series April 23-25, winning by a combined score of 13-8. The Flames were shut out for the second time this season in a 2-0 loss Saturday. 

Liberty is set to face the Virginia Cavaliers Tuesday, April 27 in Charlottesville. This will be the Flames’ second matchup with UVA this year, after beating the Cavaliers 10-2 earlier this season.

Kevin Gora is a Sports Reporter. Follow him on Twitter at @kevgora.

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