Flames baseball back on the diamond for the 2024 season

Baseball season is almost upon us, and the Liberty Flames baseball team is gearing up for its first season in Conference USA.

After spending five years in the Atlantic Sun Conference, the Flames have made the move up. Liberty Head Coach Scott Jackson believes the conference shift will be good for the program.

“It’s a better brand of baseball than we’re used to,” Jackson said. “And when you stir it all up, that’s a lot of positives for our program.”

A fresh season brings many changes in college baseball, and the Flames are no exception. Many new players have been added to the roster, and Jackson expressed excitement for his newcomers.

“The work ethic really stands out,” Jackson said. “I think it’s the thing that is the most encouraging.”

Photo by Cassidy Paxton

While there is a multitude of additions, many players from last season have returned as well. Returning players include Liberty’s two top-hitters for average last year, sophomores Brayden Horton and Kane Kepley. 

“If (Horton and Kepley will) just be themselves and be able to do on a daily basis what they’re capable of and not really get outside of that, we have a chance to be really, really good,” Jackson said.

The Flames have lost players from last season as well. Whether they graduated or transferred, they will not be back, and the program has to move on. Notable losses include starters from last season Gray Betts and Jaylen Guy, the latter of which batted .309 last season.

“I’m going to miss those players. I’m going to miss being around them every day — you know, just seeing their faces,” Jackson said. “But at the same time, I think it gives our program a chance to take a step forward.”

After three straight NCAA regional tournament appearances prior to last season, the Flames did not play up to expectations last year, finishing the season with a record of 27-31. Jackson said the front office has worked hard to make the needed changes to get the program back to where it wants to be, pointing out in particular how much the bullpen has improved. 

“I think we were able to step back and evaluate every facet of the program and make some changes,” Jackson said. “We’ve added some depth in that bullpen. We’ve got to throw more strikes.”

Liberty faces some difficult nonconference opponents in the upcoming season. Duke, Wake Forest, Coastal Carolina and East Carolina, all of which were ranked at the end of last season, will square up for matchups with the Flames. Jackson is not worried about what teams Liberty will have to face on the diamond. He believes they need to focus on simply playing the game.

Photo by Cassidy Paxton

“Just take it one day at a time and not worry about what that number next to our opponent says,” Jackson said. “I think it’s about us competing against the game of baseball, which is difficult enough.”

Last year may not have gone as smoothly as anticipated, but that does not change the program’s goals.

“I think our program has standards that have been set by the guys that have come before them. … We’re expecting to be in the postseason — in the NCAA tournament — every year,” Jackson said. “The next step for us would be that super regional, which would really be something special for our program. But you can’t get there without getting to the field of 64 first, so we’ll focus on that and go from there.”

The season opens up Feb. 16-18 with a three-game series at home against Quinnipiac. Then, Liberty hits the road Feb. 21 to face No. 12 Duke in an early-season test for Jackson’s group. 

Perdew is a sports reporter for the Liberty Champion

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