Liberty tabbed as preseason favorite in 2021 ASUN baseball race
Defending ASUN baseball champion Liberty is the preseason pick selected to top the conference in 2021.
Flames senior shortstop Cam Locklear was voted the ASUN Preseason Defensive Player of the Year and was named to the ASUN Preseason All-Conference team. First baseman Logan Mathieu, outfielder Gray Betts and pitcher Mason Meyer joined Locklear on the ASUN Preseason All-Conference team.
Liberty garnered the top spot in the poll. The Flames received 73 points and four first place votes. Stetson picked up 69 points and two first place votes in being selected second. FGCU tallied 63 points and three first place votes in being tabbed third.
In 2019, 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.
Last season, the Flames started the year 10-7, before the season was halted due to COVID-19 precautions.
The Flames will return seven of their nine starters from 2020. Along with Locklear, Betts and Mathieu in the field, Liberty will see the return of catcher Brady Gulakowski, 2019 ASUN All-Conference second baseman Will Wagner and outfielders Jaylen Guy and Brandon Rohrer.
Meyer and reliever Landon Riley come back to anchor the Flames mound staff.
In his fifth year at Liberty, Locklear has been a fixture at shortstop. The senior from Lumberton, N.C., has started 186 games during this time at Liberty, posting a .954 fielding percentage.
Locklear has been among the ASUN leaders in fielding assists and double plays turned in each of the past two seasons. In 2019, he led the conference in fielding assists.
Locklear jumped out to a strong start at the plate in 2020. The shortstop hit .316 with nine RBI and seven runs scored, before the season was halted. In 2019, he was named to the 2019 ASUN All-Tournament team. He hit .257 and finished the season among the ASUN leaders with 42 RBI.
For the second consecutive year, Betts has been named to the preseason all-conference team. Betts posted a .312 on base percentage and scored six times in 2020.
The outfielder/catcher had quite the freshman season in a Flames’ uniform in 2019. An ASUN All-Freshman team and All-Tournament team member, he 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 and 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.
Mathieu, who sat out 2020 due to injury, hit .265 and led the ASUN with 52 RBI in 2019. The junior first baseman led the Flames with 15 multi-RBI contests. In addition, he collected 13 doubles and hit seven home runs. The Howard, Pa., native posted a .378 on base percentage and a .410 slugging percentage.
Meyer was Liberty’s opening day starter in 2020. The junior left-hander posted a 1-3 record with a 3.38 ERA over 21 1/3 innings to begin the year. He struck out 20 and walked four.
In 2019, Meyer went 6-4 with a 4.28 ERA over 80 innings in his first year with the Flames. The Newnan, Ga., native, closed out the year allowing one run on five hits over 6 1/3 innings in Liberty’s victory over Tennessee at the NCAA Chapel Hill, N.C. Regional on May 31.