The UNCG Spartans rallied in the ninth inning, edging the No. 24 Liberty Flames, 6-5, in Game 3 of the Keith LeClair Classic, Saturday evening at Clark-LeClair Stadium.
Liberty had built a 5-1 lead behind pitchers Victor Cole and Shawn Clowers. However, UNCG rallied with five in the ninth for the walk-off victory.
First baseman Sammy Taormina had three hits and scored a run for the Flames. Right fielder Nick Paxton and second baseman Nick Salisbury each collected two hits and two RBI for Liberty.
Liberty falls to 2-3 on the year. UNCG evens its record at 2-2.
After a scoreless first four innings, both teams plate runs in the fifth. Flames starting pitcher Cole and Spartans starting pitcher Brennen James held their respective opponents in check through the early innings. Cole allowed three baserunners, while James permitted one to reach through the first four innings.
Liberty, the visitors on the scoreboard, struck for two runs in the top of fifth. The Flames benefited from an error in the inning to jump in front. With two outs, Paxton walked. Third baseman Clay Kernanen then appeared to have grounded out to end the inning. However, Spartans shortstop Tripp Shelton's throw was high and sailed into the UNCG dugout, allowing both runners to move into scoring position. Salisbury followed with a two-run single to stake Liberty to a 2-0 lead.
UNCG answered with a run of its own in the bottom of the inning. With one out, designated hitter Devin Ruiz doubled into the left field corner and moved to third base on a sacrifice bunt by Shelton. After center fielder Zac MacAneney walked, right fielder Tyler Long dropped an opposite field single into left field, scoring Ruiz, cutting the Liberty advantage to 2-1.
In the sixth, the Spartans loaded the bases with one out, only to be turned away by Flames reliever Clowers. After Cole walked two consecutive batters with one out, Clowers entered the contest and hit catcher Jake Hall to load the bases. The left-hander then induced Ruiz to ground into a routine 6-4-3 double play to end to the threat and the inning.
Liberty extended its lead in the eighth. Taormina and catcher Alex Close led off the inning with back-to-back singles to put runners on the corners. After a UNCG pitching change, a wild pitch on ball four to designated hitter Nick Walker allowed Taormina to come home with the first run of the inning. Two batters later, Paxton ripped a two-run single back through the middle of the diamond for a 5-1 advantage.
In the bottom of the ninth, UNCG plated five runs for the come-from-behind win. With one out, Ruiz and Hall each singled. Pinch hitter Ryne Sigmon followed with a triple, trimming the Flames' advantage to 5-3. The next batter, MacAneney, provided a run-scoring single to make it, 5-4. After Long singled, left fielder Eric Kalbfleisch was intentionally walked to load the bases. With third baseman Colin Woody at the plate, a wild pitch rolled down the first base line, allowing MacAneney and Long to score and gave the Spartans the 6-5 win.
Cole allowed one run on four hits over the first 5 1/3 innings. He struck out six and walked four batters. Clowers took over with one out in the sixth inning and pitched 1 2/3 scoreless innings of relief, striking out two.
Ashton Perritt falls to 0-1, giving up five runs on five hits over 1 2/3 innings. He struck out one and walked one.
UNCG reliever Andrew Wantz, the fifth Spartans pitcher of the contest, moves to 1-0. He allowed one hit over one scoreless inning of work.
Liberty finished the contest with nine hits. UNCG also collected nine hits in the game.
The Flames will wrap-up play in the Keith LeClair Classic, tomorrow afternoon. Liberty will face host East Carolina at Clark-LeClair Stadium. Game time is scheduled for 2:30 p.m.