A two-run, two-out home run by Trey Wimmer propelled the No. 3 seed Liberty Flames to a 4-3 walk-off victory over the No. 4 seed Gardner-Webb Runnin' Bulldogs, Friday at Willard Stadium, earning Liberty a berth in the Big South title game.
Trailing 3-2 in the bottom of the ninth, first baseman Alex Close opened the inning with a single and moved to second on a sacrifice bunt by second baseman Bryan Aanderud. After advancing to third base on a ground out by designated hitter Tyler Cox, Wimmer drove the first pitch from Runnin' Bulldog reliever Jeff Howell over the left field fence for the victory.
Liberty moves to 41-18 on the year and advances to tomorrow's "winner take all" championship game at 4 p.m. The appearance will be the 10th by Liberty in the title game and its first since 2010. The Flames have made the second-most appearances in the championship. Gardner-Webb finishes the season at 32-28.
After a scoreless first inning, Liberty, the home team on the scoreboard, pushed across the first run of the contest. Close drew a walk to open the frame and moved to second on a wild pitch by Gardner-Webb starting pitcher Brock Wilson. After advancing to third on a ground out by Aanderud, Close scored on an infield single by Cox for a 1-0 edge.
Gardner-Webb tied the contest in the top of the fourth, only to see Liberty answer with a run in the bottom of the inning. Runnin' Bulldogs catcher John Harris led off the top half of the inning with his fourth home run of year to knot the contest at 1-1.
In the Flames half of the fourth, Liberty went back in front with a run, benefiting from a Gardner-Webb error. Right fielder Michael Robertson began the inning by reaching on a fielding miscue by third baseman Brad Collins. After moving to second on a wild pitch by Wilson and third on a deep fly out, Robertson came home when Aanderud singled to right for 2-1 Flames advantage. The Runnin' Bulldogs tied the game in the fifth. With one out, second baseman Scott Johnson walked. Two batters later, center fielder Benji Jackson lined a hit-and-run single to right field. And when Liberty's Robertson could not come up with the ball, Johnson scored, tying the game at 2-2.
Meanwhile, the Flames left runners in scoring position with two outs in each of fifth and the sixth innings. In the fifth, Liberty advanced runners to second and third, only to be turned away. In the sixth, the Flames moved a runner to third base, but were unable to break the deadlock.
In the top of the eighth, Gardner-Webb took advantage of a Liberty error to take the lead. With two out, Robertson dropped a fly ball to right, hit by right fielder Adam McFarland, for a two-base error. After a pitching change by Liberty, Harris followed with a single to score pinch runner Danny Yelverton for a 3-2 edge, setting the stage for Wimmer's ninth-inning home run.
Brooks Roy continued the run strong outings by Liberty starting pitchers during the conference tournament. In his longest start of the year, the right-hander pitched eight innings, allowing three runs, two unearned, on three hits. He struck out four batters and walked two.
Reliever Matt Marsh moves to 1-1 on the season. The Liberty right-hander allowed one hit over 1 1/3 innings in recording the victory. Howell falls to 3-4 on the year. In relief of Willson, Howell pitched 2 2/3 innings, giving up the winning runs. He struck out one. Liberty collected nine hits in the game. Wimmer had two hits for the Flames. Six different Liberty players had hits in the contest.
Gardner-Webb had six hits in the game. Harris had two hits for the Bulldogs.
Tomorrow's title game will be televised by ESPN3, starting at 4 p.m. The Flames will take on either No. 1 seed Coastal Carolina or No. 7 seed High Point in the Big South Baseball Championship final.