The No. 2 seed Liberty Flames saw their season come to end in heart-breaking fashion against the No. 6 seed UNC Asheville Bulldogs, 2-1, Friday morning in Game 5 of the Big South Conference Baseball Championship.
Trailing 1-0 in the top of the ninth inning, Bulldog third baseman Brandon Lankford hit a two-run home run over the left field wall to give Asheville a 2-1 lead.
Liberty, the home team by virtue of its higher seed, moved the tying run to third base with one out in the bottom of the inning. However, Bulldog reliever Eric Whitecavage was able to keep the runner at third by recording the final two outs to seal the victory.
With the defeat, Liberty's season comes to an end. The Flames finish their first season under Head Coach Scott Jackson with a 32-23 mark. Asheville, 24-31, advances to play tomorrow against the loser of Game 8 between No. 7 seed Gardner-Webb and No. 3 seed Presbyterian.
Flames starting pitcher Jack DeGroat was stellar over the first six innings. The right-hander held the Bulldogs scoreless and gave up just one hit. He struck out a career-high 13 and walked four, never allowing an Asheville runner past second.
DeGroat and Bulldogs starter Greg Gasparro were locked in a pitchers' duel through the first four innings.
Liberty did threaten in the bottom of the first, only to come away empty. The Flames loaded the bases on a fielding error on a ground ball by third baseman Trey McDyre, a walk to left fielder Jake Barbee and single by first baseman Sammy Taormina. But, Gasparro was able to retire the next two batters to keep Liberty off the scoreboard.
Liberty took a 1-0 lead in the fifth. Center fielder D.J. Artis, the 2017 Big South Player of the Year, walked to lead off the bottom of the inning. After advancing to second on a sacrifice bunt by McDyre, Artis stole third base. Barbee, who had two hits in the contest, followed with a sharply hit single to right field to give Liberty a 1-0 edge.
That advantage held until the top of the ninth. With one out, pinch hitter Joe Zayatz singled to right field. Lankford followed with his 10th home run of the year to give Asheville a 2-1 edge.
In the bottom of the ninth, designated hitter Eric Grabowski walked to open the frame. After pinch runner Josh Barrick moved to second on an errant throw on a pick-off attempt by Whitecavage, he advanced to third on a sacrifice bunt by second baseman Andrew Kowalo. After Whitecavage recorded the second out of the inning via a strikeout, pinch hitter Dylan Allen walked to put runners at the corners. However, the Bulldog reliever was able to retire the next Flame to seal the 2-1 victory.
Liberty reliever Shane Quarterley ends the year with a 3-2 record. The right-hander gave up two runs on four hits over three innings. He struck out two and walked one.
Whitecavage advances to 4-0. The right-hander pitched four scoreless innings, yielding one hit. He struck out two and walked two.
Each team had five hits apiece. Both teams left eight men on base. Asheville committed three errors.