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Liberty baseball team uses fast start to roll past Virginia

Liberty baseball team uses fast start to roll past Virginia

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LYNCHBURG — The ping of the baseball leaving Will Wagner’s bat in the bottom of the first inning echoed loudly throughout Liberty Baseball Stadium.

To those admiring the baseball’s flight through the late Wednesday afternoon sky, it looked and sounded like a no-doubt home run destined to clear the outfield wall.

Scott Jackson, standing in the third-base coach’s box, thought it sounded a bit too good off the bat. Wagner thought the same thing. They worried the Liberty second baseman got too much of the pitch and pulled it foul.

Jackson leaned a bit to watch the ball’s trajectory and confidently clapped his hands together once he saw it was going to sneak inside the right-field foul pole.

Wagner’s blast fulfilled one of Jackson’s pre-game goals against Virginia and starting pitcher Matt Wyatt — put some runs on the board early and chase Wyatt.

Mission accomplished.

Wagner’s three-run homer highlighted Liberty’s five-run first inning and the Flames cruised to a 10-2 victory over the Cavaliers to extend the program’s winning streak to a Division I-record 12 games.

“I thought it was critical the way we needed to start the game, just our approach against Wyatt needed to be good,” Jackson said. “I felt like we had some good matchups in there.”

Wagner, who has reached base in nine consecutive games, gave the Flames (14-5) a lead they never relinquished with his three-run homer off Wyatt (1-1).

The former Miller School standout turned on a 2-1 changeup from Wyatt that was left up in the zone, and the junior initially thought he hooked it foul once it left the bat.

“It stayed straight,” Wagner said. “I was happy it stayed straight.”

Wyatt was chased after facing nine batters and recording only two outs. He allowed all five first-inning runs on four hits and one walk.

Garrett Wilkinson’s double scored Trey McDyre, and a wild pitch allowed Logan Mathieu to score from third to cap the first-inning scoring.

Wagner drove in four runs as Liberty scored double-digit runs for the second time this season. The Flames tallied a season-high 16 runs in their home opener Feb. 24 against North Carolina A&T.

Flames left fielder Aaron Anderson, named an ASUN co-player of the week on Monday, extended his streak of multi-hit games to four with a 3-for-4 performance Wednesday against the Cavaliers. He leads the team with nine multi-hit games this season, and he’s hitting .600 with a trio of doubles during his streak of multi-hit games.

Anderson began the campaign hitting second in the lineup, but Jackson felt the Flagler College transfer wasn’t getting enough opportunities with runners on base, and he and Wagner have been flipping between the third and cleanup spots during the Flames’ winning streak.

“That guy, he can hit,” Wagner said of Anderson. “I feel like every time I’m up, he’s on base, he’s at second base, and that’s key for us just because it gives me an opportunity to score him in.”

Mathieu, who opened the season hitting in the middle of the lineup, has benefitted from Anderson’s move to his old spot. The first baseman was hitting .185 with four homers and 20 strikeouts primarily out of the cleanup spot, but the move down the lineup has allowed him to see more pitches with runners on base.

Mathieu took advantage Wednesday by going 2 for 4 with a third-inning solo homer that put the Flames up 6-0.

The early offensive explosive was more than enough support for Flames starter Mason Hand and a trio of arms from the bullpen that limited the Cavaliers (9-11) to four hits.

“Our pitching is so good … it’s nice to give them two or three runs early in the game so they can get comfortable,” Wagner said.

Hand allowed one hit and two earned runs in 3 1/2 innings, and David Erickson followed with 3 2/3 scoreless innings of relief to pick up the victory and improve to 5-0. He walked two and struck out two.

“It’s a great feeling to go out there and throw well,” Erickson said.

The Cavaliers scored twice on sacrifice flies in the fourth inning to cut the deficit to 6-2.

Brendan Rivoli’s fly ball to right scored Kyle Teel (2 for 4) from third, and Devin Ortiz followed in the next at-bat with another sac fly that scored Zack Gelof.

UVa had only two runners advance into scoring position over the final five innings.

“Our bullpen was sensational again,” Jackson said.

Liberty improved to 5-0 in midweek games and has won all three of its matchups against ACC programs. The Flames swept the season series against North Carolina and topped the Cavaliers in the first of two meetings this season.

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