After a dominant regular season in the Big South in which the Flames lost a total of only three games, Liberty made an early exit from the Big South Tournament yesterday, going 2-2 in the tournament. Winthrop gave the Flames a taste of their own medicine with an 5-6, eighth inning comeback win to eliminate the Big South’s 1 seed from play.
Liberty had a promising start to the tournament with a 3-0 win over Gardner-Webb behind the arm of the Big South Pitcher of the Year, Trey Lambert, but the Flames were stopped in their tracks in round 2. High Point pitcher, Cas Silber, mowed through the lineup while the Panthers quickly jumped out to a big lead with a five run third inning. The Panthers would go on to win 9-0, sending the Flames to the losers bracket.
After the sprinklers showed everyone who was boss, delaying the game a day, the Flames squared off against the Radford Highlanders in their third game. In his second outing against Radford in a row, Big South Freshman of the Year, Parker Bean, struggled even worse than in the first contest, in which he allowed three runs in 3.1 innings. Bean was yanked after just 1.1 innings, allowing three runs. Liberty would come back to knot things up by the fifth inning, and in the eighth inning Big South Player of the Year, Ryan Seiz, once again came through in the clutch with a huge bomb to give the Flames a 4-3 advantage that they would hang on to.
Up against the 2 seed and tournament hosts, Liberty would fall short against Winthrop in their fourth game of the tournament, but not before a bit of drama. Up 5-2 in the eighth, Will Shephard was called for the third out on a blown call at the plate. It didn’t seem at the time that it would affect the outcome of the game, but that run (and perhaps more with two left on) would end up being the difference.
The Eagles would have a four run eighth inning after a questionable decision by the coaching staff to bring in Caleb Evans, who had only pitched 7.1 innings all season. The move proved costly as Evans only recorded one out while allowing three runs. A HBP by Ashton Perritt with the bases loaded brought in the go ahead run for the Eagles.
The Winthrop win will put the Eagles up against Campbell in the Big South Tournament finale tomorrow with the winner getting an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament. Sorry bubble teams.
How This Affects NCAA Tournament Hopes
The NCAA Tournament selections will be announced Monday on ESPNU at noon. Really, the bland tournament performance shouldn’t affect too much matchup wise. The Flames probably entered the tournament as a mid to low two seed and left as a mid to high three seed, but the more concerning thing is their current level of play.
Liberty hasn’t won a non-conference game since Clemson on April 22. I know they couldn’t have changed that this week, but now that Big South play is over, the fact that the Big South competition just doesn’t match up with NCAA tournament competition is a daunting reality. Add their recent performances in the Radford series and now the Big South Tournament (especially the High Point game), and you have a team headed in the wrong direction. Despite having a better squad than last year, it will be difficult for this team to have a better showing and make it out of a regional, unless they turn things around.