Liberty will head back to where the 2022 baseball season began, as the Flames head to Gainesville, Florida to begin Regional play on Friday against Oklahoma. The Flames are the No. 3 seed in the Gainesville Regional where No. 13 national seed Florida is the host.
So, who all will join the Flames in Gainesville this weekend? Here’s the seed list:
(1) Florida (39-22)
(2) Oklahoma (37-20)
(3) Liberty (37-21)
(4) Central Michigan (42-17)
“It’s hard to put into words,” Liberty head coach Scott Jackson said of his team advancing to the NCAA Tournament. “It’s kind of ironic we’re going back to Gainesville. After that (opening) weekend, I felt like we had a good team. Everybody has their bumps along the way and we’ve had our share just like everybody. For these guys to be rewarded, it’s so much more about what everyone sees on the field. It’s the way they carry themselves and the work that goes into it. The game rewards kids that stay together and want to do the things that it takes to get here. You see that right here and I’m proud to be their coach, I can tell you that much.”
On paper, the Gainesville Regional is the most difficult of the 16 regionals this weekend. The four teams in the regional have an average RPI of 33.25. The next highest is the Statesboro Regional at 40.75 while the others range from 42.75 – 86.5. Gainesville is one of only two regionals with three teams in the top 31 of the RPI and one of only two with all four teams in the top 71 of RPI.
The Flames will begin with Oklahoma on Friday at noon in a game that will be streamed on ESPN+. It will be the first ever meeting between the two programs. The Sooners won the Big 12 Championship this past weekend and just narrowly missed out from being a regional host. Florida is 12th in RPI, Oklahoma is 19th while Liberty is 31st and Central Michigan is 71st.
Florida posted a 15-15 mark in SEC play and lost to the national top-seed Tennessee in the SEC Tournament title game. Catcher BT Riopelle was named first-team all-SEC after batting .308 with 15 home runs. Outfielder Wyatt Langford leads the team with a 3.63 batting average, 23 home runs and 60 RBIs. The Gators have won 16 out of its last 21 games.
For the Sooners, they are one of the hottest teams in the country. They won the Big 12 Tournament by virtue of a perfect 4-0 mark this past weekend. Oklahoma has won their last five weekend series. Peyton Graham has a .339 batting average and leads the team with 16 home runs and 60 RBIs. Blake Robertson posted a .321 batting average this season and leads the team with 22 doubles and 62 walks. Jake Bennett is the ace of the staff. In 15 appearances this season, all starts, Bennett had posted a 7-3 record with a 3.60 ERA. In 90 innings pitched, he has struck out 103 and walked just 18.
“I know Skip well,” said Jackson. “Skip Johnson was the pitching coach at Texas when I was at North Carolina, so I got to know him on the recruiting trail. Just a ton of respect for him. It’s Oklahoma. They made a great run there in the (Big 12) Tournament. I’m sure they are disappointed they’re not a top 16 seed and they’re not hosting. With that comes a little motivation and a little fire.”
Central Michigan is making a third straight appearance in the NCAA Tournament. They posted a 30-7 mark in the MAC before winning the conference tournament to advance to Gainesville. CMU led the conference in batting average and runs scored and is second in ERA and batting average against.
“I don’t know anything about Central Michigan,” said Jackson. “(Head coach) Jordan (Bischel) has done a fantastic job there. They’ve been really, really relevant the last couple of years and won a lot of games. That speaks to the confidence in the turnaround and the confidence to be able to do it year after year. It’s one thing to get there one year, but to back that up, he’s done that. It won’t be easy. It’s a tough regional.”
After missing his past three starts, it is unlikely that Liberty Friday night starter Garrett Horn will be available this weekend as he continues to battle back from shoulder soreness. Joe Adametz, Trey Gibson, and Dylan Cumming would likely be the first three starters Coach Jackson turns to this weekend in Horn’s absence.
“There’s nobody that says, ‘that’s an easy game, I’m glad we’re playing Liberty,'” said Jackson. “The factors that go into postseason success, we have some of that. We can pitch. We’ve been to that ballpark. We certainly have some guys that can do things offensively and had a good conference tournament. We know the ball is probably going to carry a little bit there, hopefully that plays into our favor some. I’m thankful for the opportunity to go down there.”
FRIDAY, JUNE 3
Game 1: #2 Oklahoma vs #3 Liberty, 1 pm, ESPN+
Game 2: #1 Florida vs #4 Central Michigan, 6:30 pm, ESPN+
SATURDAY, JUNE 4
Game 3: Game 1 loser vs Game 2 loser, 1 p.m.
Game 4: Game 1 winner vs Game 2 winner, 7 pm
SUNDAY, JUNE 5
Game 5: Game 3 winner vs Game 4 loser, 1 pm
Game 6: Game 4 winner vs Game 5 winner, 7 pm
MONDAY, JUNE 6
Game 7 (if necessary): Game 6 rematch IF Game 5 winner wins Game 6, 1 pm