Left fielder Keith Hardwick singled with one out in the bottom of the ninth to push the No. 1 seed Coastal Carolina Chanticleers past the No. 2 seed Liberty Flames, 3-2, Friday afternoon in game 10 of the 2011 Big South Championship at Gray-Minor Stadium.
Liberty falls to 35-23 and will face the No. 5 seed Gardner-Webb Runnin' Bulldogs in an elimination game at 7 p.m. tonight. The winner moves into tomorrow's title contest. Coastal Carolina moves to 40-18 and advances to tomorrow's title game at 1 p.m. against tonight's winner.
Liberty, the visitors on the scoreboard, staked itself to an early advantage in its opening at bat. With one out, right fielder Michael Robertson singled back through the middle and the next batter, Matt Williams, singled through the right side of the infield to put runners to the corners. Two batters later, third baseman Tyler Bream walked to fill the bases with Flames with two out. Designated hitter Ryan Cordell followed by lining a single through the right side of the infield, plating Robertson and Williams for a 2-0 lead.
Coastal Carolina posted its first run of the game in the bottom of the second. Shortstop Taylor Motter began the inning with a double off the top of the center field wall and moved to third base on a bunt single by designated hitter Keith Hardwick. Motter then scored when catcher Tucker Frawley bounced into a double play, cutting the Liberty advantage in half, 2-1.
In the bottom of the third inning, the Chanticleers threatened. Center fielder Scott Woodward doubled to left-center field with one. After the next batter was retired, second baseman Tommy La Stella laced the first pitch he saw toward the right-center field gap. However, Liberty's Robertson made an outstanding diving catch to record the last out of the frame and prevent Coastal Carolina from tying the game.
After Liberty starter Garrett Baker retired eight batters in a row, Coastal Carolina broke through to knot the game on an unearned run. With one out, Motter singled to left field and moved to second base on a single by Hardwick. Frawley followed with a ground ball which got past Bream at third base for an error, allowing Motter to come around and tie the contest at 2-2.
Rain began to fall before the start of the ninth inning, causing the tarp to be pulled and a short delay of 19 minutes. In the top of the frame, pinch hitter Justin Richardson single with one out, but Chanticleer reliever Josh Conway retired the next two Flames to end the inning.
Coastal Carolina right fielder Daniel Bowman led off the bottom of the ninth with a single. Motter moved Bowman into scoring position at second base with a sacrifice bunt, setting the stage for Hardwick's game-winning hit.
Despite an outstanding effort by Baker, the left-hander falls to 6-5 on the season. He gave up three runs on eight hits over 8 1/3-plus innings. Baker struck out three and walked one.
Conway moves to 8-1 on the year with a scoreless inning of relief. He was the fourth Chanticleer pitcher in the game.
Liberty had seven hits in the contest, with Williams having two. Hardwick had three hits for the Chanticleers.Left fielder Keith Hardwick singled with one out in the bottom of the ninth to push the No. 1 seed Coastal Carolina Chanticleers past the No. 2 seed Liberty Flames, 3-2