Liberty right fielder Will Shepherd had four hits, including a home run, and drove in four runs, helping lead the No. 7 seed Flames to a 9-3 victory over the No. 3 seed Longwood Lancers, in Game 7 of the 2016 Big South Baseball Championship at Lexington County Baseball Stadium.
Shepherd went 4-for-5 to post his second four-hit game of the season and his seventh with three or more hits. The right fielder hit his team-leading eighth home run of the season and had two doubles among his four hits. He collected four RBI and scored twice in the contest.
Fellow outfielder and the Big South Freshman of the Year D.J. Artis added two hits, a walk and scored three times. He also had two RBI.
Liberty, 30-27, advances to Game 12, the second game of the day on Friday, against a yet to be determined opponent. First pitch will be 30 minutes after the completion of Game 11, which begins at 10 a.m. The Flames, winners of eight out of their last nine, become the first No. 7 seed to reach Big South semifinals in the winner’s bracket in the 15-year history of the tournament’s eight-team field.
Longwood, 31-26, will play No. 2 seed High Point, tomorrow in an elimination game, beginning at 3 p.m.
Both teams plated runs in the contest’s opening inning. In the top of the first, Shepherd, the second batter of the game, connected for a solo home run to give Liberty, the visitors on the scoreboard, a short-lived 1-0 edge. In the bottom of the inning, Lancer second baseman C.J. Roth singled to open the frame and advanced to second on a walk to first baseman Connar Bastaich. After moving to third on a double play, Roth scored on a two-out single by shortstop Michael Osinski to tie the game at 1-1.
Liberty struck for four, two-out runs in the top of the second, sending all nine men to the plate to bat in the inning. With one out, designated hitter Payton Scarbrough and designated hitter Josh Latta reached on back-to-back singles. Two batters later, center fielder Jack Morris walked to load the bases.
Artis followed with a single to center field, driving in Scarbrough and Latta for a 3-1 edge. Morris then scored on a wild throw on a pickoff attempt by Longwood starting pitcher Luke Simpson to up Liberty’s advantage to 4-1. The next batter, Shepherd, capped the inning with a double to left-center field, plating Artis for a 5-1 lead.
Longwood pushed across a single run in the bottom of the second. The Lancers opened the bottom half of the inning by loading the bases with no outs. A fielder’s choice ground out by Roth scored a run, cutting the Flames’ edge to 5-2.
In the fifth, Longwood again loaded the bases with no outs, but once again, came away with only one run. With the bases full, Liberty right-hander Shane Quarterley took over for starting pitcher Evan Mitchell and was greeted by a run-scoring single by Osinski, trimming the Flames’ advantage to 5-3.
Center fielder Colton Konvicka hit a towering fly down the left field line, which was ruled foul, and for the first time in Big South Tournament history, replay was used to determine if the ball was actually foul or a home run. The umpires concluded the ball was foul, and Quarterley went on to strike out Konvicka and retired the following batter on a ground out to end the scoring threat without further damage.
Liberty added two runs in the seventh. Morris led off the inning with a double and moved to third on an infield single by Artis. When Lancer shortstop Osinski’s throw was wide at first in an attempt to throw out Artis, Morris came home to make it, 6-1 Flames. Shepherd followed with a RBI single for a 7-1 lead.
The Flames tacked on two more in the ninth. Shepherd’s four hit of the game, a double, plated Artis, who was hit by a pitch to lead off the inning. Later, a wild pitch allowed Shepherd to score for what proved to be the final score of 9-3.
Quarterley moves to 6-4 on the season. The junior pitched 3 2/3 innings of scoreless relief. He allowed two hits, while striking out two.
Simpson drops to 1-4. The right-hander was roughed up for five runs on five hits over 1 1/3-plus innings. He struck out two and walked two.
Longwood outhit Liberty, 12-10, but made four errors.