Liberty takes series opener with UNC-Asheville

libertyBehind a three-hit night by right fielder Will Shepherd the Liberty Flames built a 6-2 lead and then held off a furious rally by the UNC Asheville Bulldogs, en route to 6-5 victory Friday evening at Liberty Baseball Stadium.

Shepherd collected his fourth three-hit game of the year and drove in two runs in the contest. Fellow junior Andrew Yacyk also had three hits and a RBI for the Flames.

Liberty, who has taken the first two games of the three-game series, moves to 15-10 overall and 2-0 in Big South Conference play. UNC Asheville drops to 5-17 overall and 0-5 in conference.

The Flames jumped out to an early lead in the bottom of the first. Left fielder D.J. Artis and Shepherd opened the inning with back-to-back singles. A throwing error by shortstop Carmine Pagano after Shepherd ended up in a rundown on a pickoff attempt, allowed Artis to score for a 1-0 advantage. Yacyk followed with a run-producing single for a 2-0 edge.

Liberty extended its lead to 3-0 in the third. Second baseman Andrew Kowalo walked and advanced to second on a wild pitch. After moving to third on a long flyout by shortstop Dalton Britt, Kowalo scored on a groundout by catcher Josh Latta.

Held in check by Flames’ starting pitcher Victor Cole through the first five innings, the Bulldogs broke through against the left-hander for two runs in the sixth. First baseman Danny Wilson walked and right fielder Kyle Carruthers singled to lead off the top of the inning. Two batters later, third baseman Alex Barretta tripled down the right field line, plating both runners to slice the Liberty advantage to 3-2.

However, right-hander Eric Grabowski replaced Cole and was able to hold the runner at third, preserving the Flames’ advantage.

Liberty added three runs in the bottom of the eighth. Britt began the home half of the frame with a double into the right-center field gap and advanced to third on a bunt by Latta. Two batters later, third baseman Josh Barrick plated Britt with a safety bunt to give Liberty a 4-2 edge.

Later in the inning with bases loaded and two outs, a pop fly on the infield dropped between several Asheville fielders for a single, bringing home two more runs for a 6-2 Flames’ lead.

The Bulldogs mounted a comeback attempt in the ninth, moving the tying run into scoring position during the inning. Back-to-back one-out singles by Wilson and Carruthers put Asheville runners at the corners. Left fielder Scott Knobos, who entered the game as a pinch hitter in the sixth, followed with a RBI single to make it, 6-3 Flames. A ground out by the next batter Barretta brought home another run, trimming the Liberty lead to 6-4. Pinch hitter Justin Woods then doubled, scoring Knobos, cutting the visitors’ deficit to one at 6-5.

Reliever Shane Quarterley was summoned from the Liberty bullpen with the tying run at second base and immediately got Pagano to fly out to center field, sealing the 6-5 Liberty victory and recording his fourth save of the season.

Cole moves to 2-1 on the season. He gave up two runs on three hits over 5 1/3-plus innings. He struck out 10 and walked six.

Asheville starter Jordan Carr falls to 1-4 on the season. He allowed three runs on nine hits. He struck out four and walked one over 6 2/3-plus innings.

Liberty outhit Asheville, 11-9. The Bulldogs left 13 men on base, while the Flames left on 10.

Asheville and Liberty will finish their three-game Big South series, tomorrow. First pitch is scheduled for 2 pm.

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