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A Combination to Rely On

November 24, 2008  Lynchburg, Va.  RSS
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Right-hander Dustin Umberger and catcher Errol Hollinger will be a relied upon duo this seson

Right-hander Dustin Umberger and catcher Errol Hollinger will be a relied upon duo this seson

Editorial Note: This article ran in the Flames Illustrated football game day program on Nov. 22 (Elon game).

Being comfortable and confident are two important things athletes need to have. In team sports, it may be even taken a little further, as not only must an individual be that way separately, but he must be contended with and have confidence in his teammate. And, no place in sports is that more visible than the relationship between a pitcher and catcher.

This spring, right-hander Dustin Umberger and catcher Errol Hollinger will once again form a strong battery for the Liberty Flames baseball team. The two seniors have worked together since their arrival on campus and the chemistry the two have developed can make it tough on opposing hitters.
"I have thrown some of the best games with Errol behind the plate," stated Umberger. "We are on the same page most of the time. He knows what I want to throw and I know what he wants me to throw. We work real well together on setting up hitters, pitch selection and pitch location."

"Dustin is a bulldog," commented Hollinger about Umberger and his relationship with the pitcher. "He is a smart pitcher, who throws hard and hits the spots. He knows what he wants to throw when he is out on the mound, and he has proven, with the pitches he has, he can get batters out.

"He is very smart when comes to pitching. He has a good idea on what to throw and what he is comfortable in throwing during certain situations. He can adjust when he has mechanics or pitch location issues and fix it in one or two pitches."

The two Flame mainstays have been key contributors since coming to Liberty in 2006. Hollinger started his first game in a Liberty uniform and has handled the Flames' regular catching duties since then, while Umberger has pitched more than 80 innings each of his first three seasons with the Flames.

Known for his solid protective skills, Hollinger had another excellent year defensively for the Flames in 2008. For the second consecutive year, the Upland, Calif., native topped the Big South Conference in runners caught stealing, throwing out 26 would-be base thieves in 2008 and 24 in 2007. Hollinger had the fewest passed balls of his career last season (four) and posted a .985 fielding percentage, while leading the team in chances.

"Looking back on last year, being able to limit the passed balls and wild pitches, let's your pitchers trust you enough to feel confident in throwing to you," stated Hollinger. "When they trust in you, they tend to make better pitches, and have more confidence that if they don't make the pitch, I am going to stop it for them and prevent a runner from advancing a base."

In addition, the catcher had his best season at the plate in 2008. Batting out of the No. 2 position in the Flames' batting order for the first time ever while playing organized baseball, Hollinger finished fifth in the Big South and led head coach Jim Toman's squad with 60 runs scored.

He also finished seventh in the conference in runs scored, while leading the Flames in both hits (82) and total bases (127). His 47 RBIs tied him for second on the Flames and seventh in the conference, while hitting .319. With the stellar season, Hollinger was selected to the Big South second-team all-conference squad, his first such career honor.

"Last year was a good year at the plate for me," commented Hollinger, who had previously hit in the lower third of the Liberty line-up. "I was patient and was able to sit back and see the ball. Everything just came together for me.

"I really liked hitting upfront in the line-up. I felt comfortable in the No. 2 slot because I knew I was going to get on base. The guys behind me did a good job of driving me, so I just tried to get on."
Hollinger also has proven himself a tough batter to strikeout, as the past two seasons he has been among the 150 toughest batters to strikeout in the country.

Meanwhile, Umberger has been a dependable member of the Liberty mound staff the past three years. The right-hander has made 59 appearances during his Flames career, posting a 17-9 mark with a 4.55 ERA over 261 innings. He has struck out 189 batters, tying him for seventh on Liberty's career list, and walked 80, a 2.4 to 1 strikeout-to-walk ratio.

Last season, the Hummelstown, Pa., native started the year in the Flames' bullpen, and later during the campaign joined the Liberty's starting rotation. In 21 appearances, Umberger recorded an 8-3 mark with a 3.80 ERA over 83 innings. The right-hander struck out a Big South-leading 88 hitters and ranked second in the league in wins and seventh in opponent batting average (2.57).

He walked only 19 batters during the year, for a 4.6 to 1 strikeout-to-walk ratio. He earned his second Big South all-tournament team mention after a complete game, six-hit, 11-2 victory over Radford in an elimination game during last season's Big South Baseball Championship.

"I think Dustin is going to be one of the top pitchers in the league this year," stated Hollinger when talking about Liberty's top returning starter. "He goes out there with a hard-nosed mentality and is definitely the leader of our pitching staff."

"My dad always told me to stay tough when I am out on the mound," acknowledged Umberger about the way he goes about his time on the mound. "So that is what I try to do. I try not to let an error in the field bother me. It is the mental errors which are going to do you in."

And while the two form one of the Big South Conference's top pitcher-catcher combos, Hollinger and Umberger will be looked upon this season to help a lead a team, with over 20 new players, be successful.

"I see my role this season as being a leader and setting an example," stated Hollinger. "We have a limited amount of games in the season. We have to work hard to achieve our goals, and we need to remember we have to get it done from the start.

"Being the catcher, my job is to be the field leader. A good, successful team has to have a good catcher. And, a good catcher is a leader."

Coming off fall practice, the Liberty baseball team is once again optimistic and excited about the upcoming season.

"As a team, we want to win the Big South Championship, something Liberty hasn't done since 2000," noted Umberger. "We want to go to a Regional. To do this, we would like to win over 40 games to be in the running for an at-large bid, so we aren't relying on the automatic bid for winning the Big South Championship."

With the combination of Hollinger and Umberger at the helm, the Flames might just do it.

by Ryan Bomberger, associate athletics communication director for Liberty University's baseball, men's and women's soccer and men's and women's tennis programs.