Flames punish Quinnipiac in season opener, outscore Bobcats 36-12 over course of three-game series

With an electrifying start, the Liberty University baseball team came out firing on both sides of the ball to kick off its season.

Coming into the year, the Flames were ranked second in the Conference USA preseason poll, with three players making the preseason all-conference team. Holding high expectations and a new set of opponents, the Flames did not let down in the season-opening series against the Quinnipiac Bobcats.

Taking place Feb. 16-18 at Worthington Field in the hills of Lynchburg, Liberty took on the Bobcats for the first time in program history. With fans pouring into the stadium despite the chilly temperatures, Flames Nation turned out for opening day.

And despite the unfavorable weather, the Flames came out on fire. In his first collegiate start, junior pitcher Cole Hertzler paved the path to victory with a stellar outing. Hertzler put up six shutout innings, only allowing five hits and striking out seven, claiming the win. After 21 appearances in relief last season, Hertzler will play a major role in Liberty’s staff this year.

The Flames’ offense was no different, exploding for 10 runs on the night. Three of those runs came off a first inning three-run blast by junior outfielder Camden Troyer. Troyer had an exceptional night, going 3-5 with a home run, double and three runs scored. The Flames continued to pile on two runs in both the third and fourth innings, a large part of that being the spark-plug sophomore outfielder Kane Kepley. Reaching base 11 times over the course of the weekend and going 7-12 with four walks, Kepley accounted for eight of Liberty’s 36 runs against the Bobcats.

Photo by Noah Seidlitz | Kane Kepley stole 17 bases last season, second most on the team behind Jaylen Guy

Sophomore outfielder and 6-foot-6 pitcher Todd Hudson also had a three-run home run in the game, extending Liberty’s lead to 10 in the sixth inning. With 13 hits and a shutout from the pitching staff, the Flames were off and running with the weekend.

“It was awesome; this is what we have been working for all year,” Troyer said. “We went out there and had fun tonight and had contributions from everywhere. It was a complete win.”

After Liberty claimed the first victory of the series, game two brought with it a forecast of hits, runs and a win. Ultimately winning the game 16-7, the Flames obliterated the Bobcats’ bullpen. Liberty scored a run in every inning except for the seventh, with six different players recording multihit games.

Liberty graduate left fielder Noah Rabon had a whopping six RBIs with four hits on the afternoon. Right there with him was preseason all-conference senior infielder Aidan Sweatt, clubbing in four RBIs of his own with three hits and a sacrifice fly. The Flames racked up eight doubles on the day and did not have to worry about hitting homers during the Saturday afternoon win.

Photo by Noah Seidlitz | Noah Rabon had six RBIs and six hits in game two

With contributions up and down the lineup, not only did the Flames’ offense lead them to this win, but the pitching was also key. Liberty gave seven different pitchers the ball as Garrett Horn led the way with his 4.2-inning start in which he struck out seven, allowing three runs on four hits. Despite falling into trouble in the ninth inning, the Flames’ bullpen managed to pull it together and seal the victory, increasing their record to 2-0.

Looking to close the weekend out with a sweep, Liberty came back Sunday afternoon for the final game against Quinnipiac. Freshman pitcher Bryce Dolby was tasked with his first collegiate start to close out the series. The 6-foot-5 rookie powered through four innings, giving up four runs on four hits. Liberty’s bullpen played a major role in keeping the Bobcats at bay, holding them to one run over the last five innings of the ball game.

With a solid performance from the Flames’ arms, the bats struggled to break through, as they trailed going into the bottom of the seventh 5-4. That was until Liberty exploded for a six-run seventh to take a 10-5 lead. Once again lead by Rabon and Troyer, who both had two RBIs in the inning, the Flames would hold this lead the rest of the way.

But the real standout batter for the Flames in game three was freshman catcher Macaddin Dye. The Virginia native knocked in a run with a single in the second and then hit a towering two-run home run in the fourth to tie the game at fours.

With the bats wasting no time and the pitchers only allowing 12 runs over 27 innings, the Flames dominated Quinnipiac to take their first series of the season. Liberty will need to carry this type of performance into next week as it travels to Durham, North Carolina to take on No. 12 Duke Wednesday, Feb. 21. Duke will potentially be the best opponent that the Flames will see all regular season, and the Flames feel as if they are up to the task.

“We’re just going to take it day by day,” Troyer said. “We’re going to build off of this and keep the pedal to the metal.”

Bessire is the special assignments reporter for the Liberty Champion. Follow him on X.

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