Liberty's hitters are load at plate

By: Tom Murphy
Published: Wednesday, May 28, 2014
Ryan Seiz is batting .362 this season for Liberty.
Photo by David Duncan
Ryan Seiz is batting .362 this season for Liberty.

FAYETTEVILLE -- After spending 18 years as an assistant coach at North Carolina State and South Carolina, Liberty Coach Jim Toman knows the caliber of opponents his baseball team will face this weekend in its NCAA regional tournament.

Liberty opens play against Arkansas at 6 p.m. Central Friday in Charlottesville, Va., on the campus of national No. 3 seed Virginia.

"Obviously, Virginia is one of the top teams in the country and Arkansas has been one of the most successful teams in the country the last 10 years," Toman said Tuesday. "We've got our work cut out for us."

Toman also knows his Flames (41-16), who won the Big South Conference regular-season championship and earned an at-large bid into the NCAA regionals for their second consecutive postseason appearance, have the tools to match up with the big boys.

"We've got a big, physical team," Toman said. "We're going to get off the bus and pass the look test. We're probably bigger than some of those ACC and SEC schools.

"It ain't like we're going to walk out there with a bunch of little guys. We're physical, and we're hoping the wind's blowing out and we get a few balls up in the air."

The Flames have seven regulars who weigh 195 pounds or more, and six regulars who are 6-0 or taller, including 6-1, 225-pound second baseman Ryan Seiz, the Big South Conference's player of the year who hit .362 with 12 home runs and 42 RBI. Frequent clean-up hitter Alex Close, a 6-3, 225-pound first baseman, hit .324 with 8 home runs and 45 RBI.

"I'm very familiar with Coach Toman," Arkansas Coach Dave Van Horn said. "He was a longtime assistant for Ray Tanner at South Carolina and a very good coach. I followed them throughout the season, just checking scores, and just noticed they were winning a lot of ballgames, so it will be a very good matchup."

Toman has sat in the dugout opposite Van Horn many times and said he respects the job Van Horn has done.

"He's definitely an intense coach and gets after it, and he's always been very aggressive on the recruiting trail," Toman said. "He's done a wonderful job at Arkansas. So I'm looking forward to competing against him and hoping that we can stay in the game."

Liberty will start 6-4 senior right-hander Trey Lambert (11-2, 2.10 ERA), the pitcher of the year in the Big South, in its regional opener against Arkansas.

"He's a competitor and he throws strikes," Toman said. "That's his biggest deal."

Among Lambert's victories in 2013 were a 3-2 decision at South Carolina and an 11-8 victory at Georgia, and he beat Clemson 3-1 in the NCAA regional at Columbia, S.C.

The Flames also have Big South freshman of the year Parker Bean (7-2, 2.71) in their rotation.

"We'll start Trey Lambert on Friday, and then it's TBA the rest of the weekend for us," Toman said.

Arkansas is scheduled to counter with right-hander Trey Killian (4-8, 2.18 ERA), whose record does not reflect his performance because of a lack of run support this season. Right-hander Chris Oliver (8-4, 2.45) is set to start the second game for Arkansas.

"I feel like we can beat any teams in the country with those two guys going," Arkansas second baseman Brian Anderson said. "We know that they're going to give us quality innings."

The Razorbacks (38-23) and the Flames have similar approaches, with strong pitching staffs and team batting averages a little below par.

Arkansas has the nation's 15th-lowest ERA at 2.63, but it ranks third in the regional behind Virginia (2.36) and Liberty (2.62).

The Flames are hitting .276 with 36 home runs and 320 runs scored, while Arkansas is batting .263 with 26 home runs and 308 runs scored.

While the Razorbacks managed a 16-14 record in the SEC, which set an NCAA record with 10 teams reaching the NCAA Tournament, the Flames dominated in the Big South.

Liberty got off to a 22-1 start in conference play, winning its first eight series before dropping 2 of 3 games at Radford in the final regular-season series. The Flames went 2-2 in their conference tournament, beating Gardner-Webb (3-0) and Radford (4-3) before losing to High Point (9-0) and Winthrop (6-5).

In nonconference games, Liberty beat Missouri 2-1, swept a pair of games against Duke and won 4-3 at Clemson. The Flames lost 4-3 to Virginia Tech and 3-1 at North Carolina.

Liberty, whose campus in Lynchburg, Va., is a little more than an hour south of Charlottesville, have played the Cavaliers regularly, which includes an 8-2 loss to them this season.

Sports on 05/28/2014