Liberty saw its season come to an end in disappointing fashion on Saturday afternoon, falling to Central Michigan, 3-2, in 12 innings. The Flames dropped their first two games of the Gainesville Regional and are eliminated.
Tied since the top of the eighth, the Chippewas were able to scratch a run off Liberty closer Cade Hungate in the bottom of the 12th for the walk-off win. Hungate, who entered in the 12th, allowed a leadoff single and then a hit a batter as the first two players reached base. A bunt would move them into scoring position with one out. After a hard hit line out to Nathan Keeter at second, Danny Wuestenfeld smoked a single to left field to score the winning run.
It was Hungate’s first appearance of the Gainesville Regional, playing in a ballpark where he helped catapult Liberty to such a strong season start. On opening weekend of the 2022 college baseball season, the Flames won two of three games at Condron Ballpark with Hungate picking up two saves. He pitched two innings without allowing a hit or a run in those games, but it was a different story for the junior righty on Saturday afternoon.
Central Michigan, who lost to Florida 7-3 on Friday night, scratched across the first run of the game to take the early lead. They were able to manufacture a run with a leadoff walk, infield single and two sacrifices to bring a runner home off Liberty starter Joe Adametz.
After scoring three runs in the top of the first against Oklahoma on Friday to begin the Gainesville Regional, the Flames went 13 straight scoreless innings before finally plating a run in the top of the sixth. Derek Orndorff would reach and advance to second on a pop fly to shallow right center field that no Central Michigan defender could find in the sun. Three Hillier would then single to right, Orndorff advancing to third. He would score on an errant throw on a pickoff attempt by the CMU pitcher and Hillier would advance to third with just one out. He would be stranded there as Stephen Hill struck out and Cam Foster flied out.
That was a big part of the story for the Flames on the afternoon, as they left 10 runners on base and finished the 12 inning affair with just 5 hits.
The Chippewas wouldn’t waste any time to retake the lead, scoring a run on two hits in the home half of the sixth inning. That would be the end of the day for Adametz. The first-team all-ASUN selection pitched six innings, allowing two runs on five hits, while striking out seven and walking four.
Mason Fluharty was absolutely brilliant in relief of Adametz and gave the Flames a chance heading into the late innings. Liberty’s top bullpen option this season threw a career-high five innings without allowing a run, a hit, or a walk while striking out five. Only one batter reached while he was on the mound, doing so on a throwing error by the shortstop Stephen Hill.
Liberty would tie the game once again in the eighth inning. Three Hillier doubled down the left field line to lead off. Hill would then bunt him over to third, and he would score a fly out by Logan Mathieu.
A season that started with such promise after the Flames began the year 11-1 with a series win over Florida and a 1-0 mid-week win over North Carolina, both Regional hosts, ends without meeting those raised expectations. Liberty vaulted into the top 25 in the first week of the season and was ranked as high as No. 14 in the early weeks of the season. The Flames finish the season with a final record of 37-23 and failed to win a game in the regionals for the first time in three appearances under head coach Scott Jackson and first time since the 2014 season.