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Winthrop downs Liberty to take series opener

libertyThe Winthrop Eagles defeated the Liberty Flames, 11-5, in the opening contest of a three-game Big South Conference series, Friday night at the Winthrop Ballpark.

Liberty third baseman Eric Grabowski had two hits, including his second home run of the season, in the contest. He also scored twice.

Winthrop received a strong performance from starting pitcher Sam Kmiec in the victory. Kmiec held the Flames scoreless over the first six innings, as Winthrop built an 11-0 advantage.

Liberty suffers it first loss in Big South play, falling to 3-1 in conference and 16-12 overall. Winthrop moves to 2-2 in conference and 14-12 overall. The Eagles have won three straight contests.

Winthrop used three doubles in the home half of the second inning to take a 2-0 lead. Catcher Roger Gonzalez doubled into the right-center field gap and moved to third base on a passed ball. Two batters later, first baseman Mark Lowrie doubled to plate Gonzalez with the game’s first run. Right fielder Jace Whitley followed with a RBI double for a 2-run Eagle advantage.

In the third inning, Winthrop added to its lead. Left fielder Tyler Asbill singled and advance to second, when the ball got away from Flames’ center fielder Jack Morris to begin the inning. After moving to third on a sacrifice bunt, designated hitter Anthony Paulsen singled, scoring the runner for a 3-0 advantage.

Winthrop put another run on the scoreboard in the fourth. Lowrie reached on a single and advanced to second on a wild pitch. Two batters later, a one-out single by center fielder Babe Thomas plated Lowrie for a 4-0 lead.

Back-to-back two-out walks in the fifth, helped the Eagles extended their lead. Left-hander Michael Stafford quickly retired the first two batters of the inning in relief of Evan Mitchell, but ran into trouble by walking Paulsen and Gonzalez. Shortstop Mitch Spires followed with a RBI single, giving the home team, a 5-0 advantage. Later with the bases loaded, a throw by Liberty catcher Payton Scarbrough hit the runner at third base as he returned to the bag after a missed bunt attempt by the batter for a 6-0.

Winthrop put the contest out of reach in the sixth. The Eagles sent all nine men to the plate, scoring on a wild pitch, a RBI single by Brandon Fife and three-run home run by Spires for an 11-0 lead.

Liberty broke through against Kmiec in the seventh. With one out, second baseman Andrew Kowalo singled. After Kowalo was retired on a fielder’s choice ground out by shortstop Dalton Britt, Grabowski put the Flames on the scoreboard with his two-out home run to make it, 11-2.

The Flames plated three runs in the ninth off Winthrop reliever Nick Pawelczyk. With two outs, Britt singled and Grabowski reached on an infield single. Catcher Josh Latta, who entered the game as a pinch hitter in the seventh, kept the game alive with a double, scoring Britt. First baseman Sammy Taormina followed with a two-run double off the top of the right field wall for the final score of 11-5.

Liberty’s Mitchell falls to 1-3 on the season. The right-hander gave up four runs, three earned, on seven hits over four innings. The first of five Flames pitchers, he struck out one.

Kmiec moves to 4-3. The senior left-hander allowed two runs on four hits over eight innings. He struck out nine and walked one. Pawelcyzk and Zach Cook pitched for the Eagles in the ninth

Winthrop had 13 hits in the contest. Liberty collected nine.

Liberty and Winthrop will meet again, tomorrow at Winthrop Ballpark. First pitch is scheduled for 3 p.m.