Charlottesville Regional: Liberty Baseball Preview

Charlottesville Regional: Liberty Baseball Preview - USA TODAY Sports

The three-seed in the Charlottesville regional are the Liberty Flames, who really came on to the college baseball scene the past 2 seasons.  This year, they finished 41-16 overall, including 23-3 in the Big South, dominating a conference that is usually carried by Coastal Carolina.  Liberty climbed into the polls earlier this month, visiting Charlottesville as the #22 team in the nation before flaming out (sorry) a bit late in the year.  They finished 5-5 in their past 10 games and dropped the Big South Championship to Winthrop.

Their RPI at the conclusion of the year ranked them 30th, strong for a #3 seed.  Head Coach Brian O'Connor raised his eyebrows at their seeding as well, telling VirginiaSports.com, "I was a little surprised that they were a 3 [seed], quite frankly, because I think a lot of people across the country thought their résumé throughout the year deserved to be a 2. That makes it a tough regional when somebody like that, who's played so well all year long, is a 3."

Liberty earned their spot in the top-25 on the strength of a red-hot mid-season run, in which they won 20 consecutive conference games.  The Flames didn't have too many opportunities to take on quality opponents, but they did schedule 7 games against ACC teams, sweeping 2 games from Duke and taking down Clemson on the road, but losing to VT, UNC, Maryland, and UVA.  The win against Clemson was especially notable, as they took down the Tigers twice last year in the Columbia Regional of the NCAA Tournament (but were eliminated after losing twice to South Carolina).

Like the other squads that will be converging on Charlottesville this weekend, Liberty's main strength is their pitching staff - their team ERA of 2.62 ranks 14th in the 64-team field.  They're led by Trey Lambert, who went 11-2 this season while posting a 2.10 ERA.  Assuming they pitch their ace in game 1 against Arkansas, Virginia could potentially see freshman Parker Bean, who also posted strong numbers (7-2, 2.71 ERA) this season, while leading the team in strikeouts.

Liberty isn't an offensive juggernaut, but show pretty well relative to the "pitching-first" teams in the regional.  At 5.6 runs per game, they rank 81st in the nation...and 1st out of the four squads in Charlottesville.  The Flames are led by Big South Player of the Year Ryan Seiz.  The senior (and Louisville transfer) hit .362 this season, while bashing 12 home runs.

The Flames are hoping their arrival on Grounds goes better than their first trip, when they were completely shut down by Artie Lewicki. He held Liberty to just one hit in seven shutout innings, before the Flames put some hits together in the 8th to cut the final score to 8-2.  The Hoos teed off against Jared Lyons, Liberty's most common mid-week starter, knocking him out in the 3rd inning and staking themselves to an early 5-0 lead.

Last year's regional appearance was Liberty's first since 2000, and they made their first regional final in program history.  This year, they'll start off by playing Arkansas on Friday at 7PM; the game will be televised by ESPNU.

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