A big afternoon for Liberty’s Eric Grabowski helped push the No. 7 seed Flames to an 11-10 victory over the No. 8 seed Radford Highlanders in Game 12 of the Big South Baseball Championship at the Lexington County Baseball Stadium, Friday. With the win, Liberty advances to tomorrow’s winner-take-all final.
Third baseman/pitcher Eric Grabowski had two hits, including his second grand slam of the season, and drove in six runs at the plate. He also took the mound and did not allow a run over the final 1 1/3 innings, stranding the tying runner on third in the ninth to record the win in the contest.
Shortstop Dalton Britt also had two hits and a home run. He collected two RBI and scored twice.
Liberty, the first No. 7 seed in the 15-year history of the Big South’s eight-team field to win its first three games, improves to 31-27 on the season. Winners of nine out of their last 10 games, the Flames advance to the Big South title game for the eighth time in program history and the fifth time in the nine-year tenure of Head Coach Jim Toman.
Liberty will face the No. 1 seed and nationally Coastal Chanticleers in the final game for the sixth time in tournament history, tomorrow at noon on ESPNU. The winner receives the Big South Conference’s automatic bid to an NCAA Regional.
Radford, which fought back from an early 8-0 deficit in the contest, finishes its season at 19-29.
Liberty, the home team on the scoreboard jumped out to a 2-0 advantage in the bottom of the second. With two outs, first baseman Sammy Taormina and catcher Payton Scarbrough singled. Grabowski followed by dropping a single into center field, plating two runs for an early lead.
The Flames extended their advantage in the third. Right fielder Will Shepherd opened the bottom of the inning with a single and scored on Britt’s third home run of the season for a 4-0 edge. Second baseman Andrew Kowalo then reached on a throwing error by Highlanders third baseman Danny Hrbek, Taormina singled and Scarbrough reached on catcher’s interference to load the bases with one out. Grabowski followed with his four home run of the year over the right field wall, pushing the Liberty advantage to 8-0 with a grand slam.
Radford cut its deficit to three with five runs in the fifth. With one out, center fielder Luke Wise reached on a fielding error by Flames first baseman Sammy Taormina. Second baseman Chris Coia and shortstop Colby Higgerson each singled to load the bases. The next batter, Hrbek walked to force in the first run of the game for the Highlanders and right fielder Shane Johnsonbaugh followed with a two-run double, trimming the Flames’ advantage to 8-3.
After a Liberty pitching change, a sacrifice fly by Jonathan Gonzalez plated the fourth run of the inning. First baseman Nygel Andrews’ two-out single capped the five-run inning and brought Radford to within three at 8-5.
The Flames added to their advantage in the sixth. Shepherd open the frame with a double and advanced to third on a single by left fielder Andrew Yacyk. Two batters later, a squeeze bunt by Kowalo plated Shepherd for a 9-5 Liberty lead. Taormina followed with RBI sacrifice fly to push the Flames’ advantage to 10-5.
The Highlanders closed the gap on the scoreboard again with three in the seventh. Hrbek reached on an error by Liberty second baseman Kowalo and scored two batters later, on a single by Gonzalez. Later in the frame, a fielder’s choice grounder by pinch hitter Chandler Davis scored a run and a sacrifice fly by left fielder Adam Whitacre slice the Flames’ edge to 10-8.
In the top of the eighth, Radford tied the contest. After a two-out single by Hrbek to keep the inning alive, Johnsonbaugh connected on his seventh home run of the season, knotting the game at 10-10.
In the bottom of the inning, Liberty answered with what turned out to be the winning run. Britt was hit by a pitch with one out and moved to second on a single by Kowalo. After Taormina walked to fill the bases with Flames, Scarbrough lifted a sacrifice fly to right field to plate Britt and give Liberty an 11-10 lead.
The Highlanders moved the tying run to third in the ninth. Andrews reached on a fielding error by Liberty shortstop Britt to lead off the inning. Two batters later, Whitacre walked and both runners moved into scoring position on a sacrifice bunt with two outs by Wise. After Coia drew a base on balls to load the bases, Grabowski was able to knock down a liner hit back to the mound and throw out Higgerson to seal the Flames’ victory and a place in the Big South Conference final.
Grabowski moves to 1-1 on the year. He walked two and struck out one. He was the fourth pitcher of the day for the Flames.
Reliever Mack Krupp takes the loss, falling to 1-2 on the year. The third of four Highlanders to pitch in the contest, Krupp gave up one run on one hit over 2 1/3 innings. He struck out one and walked three.
Liberty collected 13 hits in the contest. Radford had nine. The Highlanders committed four errors, with the Flames making three.