The No. 7 seed Gardner-Webb Runnin' Bulldogs shocked the No. 2 seed Liberty Flames, 16-7, in Game 1 of the Big South Baseball Championship, Thursday at Lexington County Baseball Stadium.
Liberty left fielder Jake Barbee had two hits, including a grand slam, and five RBI in the contest. Barbee's grand slam was his fifth home run of the season.
Liberty falls to 32-22 and will play the loser of No. 3 seed Presbyterian vs. No. 6 seed UNC Asheville game, tomorrow at 9:30 a.m. Gardner-Webb, 25-28, will play the winner of that game at 4:30 p.m.
A fielding error in each of the first two innings opened the door for big innings for Gardner-Webb. In the first inning, the Runnin' Bulldogs plated three runs. Shortstop Paul Trick led off the game and moved to second on a fielding error by Liberty second baseman Andrew Kowalo on a grounder off the bat of designated hitter Corey Howard. After the first out of the inning, a single by right fielder Danny Sullivan gave Gardner-Webb a 1-0 lead. Two batters later, a two-out single by catcher Justin Kunz plated two runs for a 3-0 advantage.
Runnin' Bulldogs second baseman Mickey Dugan reached on an error by Flames third baseman Trey McDyre to open the second inning and later scored on a one-out double by Howard for a 4-0 edge. First baseman Collin Thacker followed with a run-scoring ground out to extend Gardner-Webb's lead to 5-0. Sullivan then plated two more runs with a two-out double and scored on a single by left fielder Chandler Redmond to build an 8-0 lead.
The Bulldogs added a two-out run in the fourth. Sullivan drew a walk with two out and advanced to second on a single by Redmond. Kunz followed with a RBI single for a 9-0 advantage.
Held without a hit through the first four innings, the Flames got on the scoreboard in the fifth. After shortstop Cam Locklear walked, center fielder and Big South Player of the Year D.J. Artis, who had two hits in the contest, singled. McDyre then walked, loading the bases. Barbee followed by depositing a ball over the left field wall, an opposite field grand slam, to cut the Liberty deficit to five at 9-4.
Gardner-Webb plated two runs in the sixth and a single run in the top of the eighth for a 12-4 score, before the Flames scored three in the bottom of eighth. With the bases loaded and no one out, a ground out by McDyre plated Locklear with the first run of the frame. Barbee followed with a single, driving in his fifth run of the contest and first baseman Sammy Taormina lifted a RBI sacrifice fly to make it, 12-7.
The Runnin' Bulldogs scored four runs in the ninth. Thacker and Sullivan hit back-to-back home runs in the inning. Sullivan's home run set a new Gardner-Webb single season record with 17.
Liberty right-hander Evan Mitchell drops to 6-2. He gave up eight runs, only two earned, on seven hits over the first two innings. He walked one.
Gardner-Webb right-hander Bradley Hallman moves to 4-6. He allowed four runs on four hits over six innings. He struck out three and walked four.
Gardner-Webb outhit Liberty, 18-7. Each team committed three errors.