Liberty picked first in ASUN preseason baseball poll
In addition, four Flames were named to the ASUN preseason all-conference team: second baseman Will Wagner, outfielder Gray Betts and pitchers Noah Skirrow and Garret Price.
The poll is voted on by the ASUN Conference’s head baseball coaches.
Liberty edged out Florida Gulf Coast in garnering the top spot in the poll. The Flames received 75 points and five first place votes, while the Eagles tallied 71 points and four first place votes.
Last season, Liberty became the first team since 1993 to capture the ASUN title in its first year as a conference member and advanced to an NCAA Regional for the first time since 2014. The Flames will return seven of their nine starters from that team. Along with Wagner, Betts, Price and Skirrow, Liberty hopes to benefit from an experienced cast which also includes 2019 ASUN RBI leader Logan Mathieu, 2019 ASUN All-Freshman team pitcher Joe Adametz III and 2019 ASUN All-Tournament team members shortstop Cam Locklear and outfielder Brandon Rohrer.
Following Liberty and FGCU, Stetson was picked to finish third in the poll with 60 points, and Jacksonville was tabbed to complete the year fourth with 59. North Florida was selected fifth with 44 points, while Lipscomb (35 points), Kennesaw State (34 points), NJIT (14 points) and North Alabama (13 points) round out the poll.
Wagner, the 2019 All-Conference first team second baseman, was the only player unanimously selected to the 2020 ASUN Preseason All-Conference team. Last season, Wagner hit .305 with 14 doubles, six home runs, 42 RBI and 43 runs scored in 62 games. He led the Flames and finished third in the conference with 74 hits. The Crozet, Va., native also finished among the ASUN leaders in RBI (fifth), doubles (sixth) and runs scored (tied seventh).
Betts had quite the freshman season in a Flames’ uniform in 2019. An ASUN All-Freshman team and All-Tournament team member, the outfielder/catcher led Liberty in hitting with a .314 batting average with 24 RBI and 29 runs scored in 53 games. He finished the year second in the conference with a .455 on base percentage. He reached base in 33 straight games (3/30-5/24), the longest such streak for a Liberty player in 2019. After becoming the everyday starter in left field on March 24, the Raleigh, N.C., native boosted the Flames lineup by hitting .342 over Liberty’s last 42 games.
Skirrow posted a 5-6 record with a 3.76 ERA over 76 2/3 innings in 2019. The right-hander struck out 98 and walked 35 in 16 appearances, 15 which were starts. The Stoney Creek, Ontario native led the ASUN Conference with 11.5 strikeouts per nine innings and was fourth in strikeouts. He held opponents to a .230 batting average, ninth best in the ASUN Conference. This past summer, he was named to 2019 Cape Cod League All-Star team.
Price had a strong season out of the Liberty bullpen in 2019. The right-handed reliever posted a 7-3 record with three saves and a 3.15 ERA over 65 2/3 innings. He led the Flames with 29 appearances, striking out 71 and walking 24. The Evington, Va., native was among the ASUN leaders, finishing the year second in appearances, third in wins, and fifth in ERA and strikeouts per nine innings. He completed the year among the top 40 pitchers nationally with a 1.02 WHIP.
Liberty will host FGCU at Worthington Field at Liberty Baseball Stadium for its first ASUN three-game series of the year, March 20-22. The Flames open their 2020 campaign on Feb. 14 at Clemson. Liberty’s first home game is scheduled for Feb. 18 against Radford. Game time is slated for 4 p.m.
The Flames hope to defend their ASUN Championship by being one of the top six teams in the ASUN standings to advance to the 2020 ASUN Baseball Championship, May 20-23 at FGCU’s Swanson Stadium in Fort Myers, Fla. The winner of the double-elimination tournament receives the ASUN’s automatic bid to the 2020 NCAA Baseball Tournament.