Flames clash with Austin Peay Governors

The crowd erupted and the Liberty dugout cleared as the Flames baseball team ran to rally around sophomore second baseman Nathan Keeter, the man responsible for a walk-off RBI in the bottom of the 10th inning. 

After his hit up the middle sent junior center fielder Jaylen Guy home for the winning run, Keeter skipped off the field with swagger. Keeter claimed responsibility for eight runs in the series, including a grand slam on Saturday and Sunday’s game winner.

“Dude, it’s an unreal feeling,” Keeter said, shaking his head in disbelief. “I haven’t experienced that before in my life. I haven’t ever walked off a game, so to do it today and in this type of game, a conference game, is huge.”

The weekend consisted of drama as the Flames faced off against the Governors for the first time in program history. Liberty scored a season-high 12 runs Friday evening to defeat Austin Peay 12-1 in seven innings under the new NCAA 10-run rule. The Flames followed that up by posting 15 runs in Saturday’s game, but they still came up short as Austin Peay upped the Flames number 18-15. The baseballs, however, were not the only thing that left the park on Saturday.

In the bottom of the first, Keeter hit a shot to centerfield for a three-run homer. After touching home, Keeter appeared to give the Governors dugout a brief stare before returning to his own.

“They’re a chirpy team, and I think I got chirped a lot,” Keeter recalled. “When that kind of happens, you black out. I don’t really remember staring over there, but I guess I eyeballed them a little bit, so it wasn’t really intentional.”

During his next at-bat, Keeter ducked out of the way as Austin Peay pitcher Peyton Jula threw a ball over his head. The pitch was ruled intentional, and the pitcher, catcher as well as Head Coach Roland Fanning and his two-liter of Mountain Dew were ejected as a result. Fanning’s ejection resulted in a suspension announced just 30 minutes before Sunday’s rubber match.

The Flames fell behind early as the Governors scored two runs right off the bat in the first inning. At the top of the second, Flames pitcher Mikey Temper hit Governors catcher Gus Freeman, and umpires had to come between the two after Freeman eyed Temper, rubbing his arm.

Austin Peay padded its lead, and Liberty remained scoreless until the sixth when sophomore third baseman Cam Foster homered, bringing in sophomore Camden Troyer to make the score 4-2.

At the top of the seventh, Austin Peay appeared to have scored another run, but a key call came as an interference was ruled. The Governors had to take a point off the board, added a second out and struck out to leave two men stranded.

Down two in the bottom of the eight, the Liberty bats caught fire. Troyer, Hillier and Foster all connected with the ball to get on base, followed by freshman Brayden Horton taking a walk to first. With bases loaded, junior Jake Lazzaro sent Hillier and Troyer in to even up the score. A Jaylen Guy hit allowed Horton to score, and the Flames grabbed hold of the lead.

Austin Peay responded in the ninth to force extra innings, but Liberty reliever Cole Garrett, as well as Keeter’s heroics, sent the Governors back to Nashville. 

“They punched first with the home run,” Head Coach Scott Jackson acknowledged. “Cam finally hits the home run, and from there, I felt like the momentum was in our dugout, and we played at the level we’re capable of.”

“We got a lot of fight in us,” Foster said. “Yesterday’s loss left a sour taste in our mouth. Today we didn’t come out fast, but we kept fighting and got the win in the end.”

After an entertaining weekend of conference competition, the Flames will return to Worthington Field for a rematch against Duke on Tuesday, March 28 at 4 p.m.

Barnes is a sports reporter for the Liberty Champion. Follow him on Twitter

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