HIGH POINT, N.C. - No. 4 seed Gardner-Webb and No. 3 Liberty locked up in a tremendous battle in Friday's first Big South Tournament semifinal, with the Flames using a two-run home run to rally for a 4-3 walk-off win.
Trey Wimmer delivered the two-run blow for the Flames (41-18), hitting a first-pitch slider over the wall in left to win the game. Liberty advances to play either No. 1 Coastal Carolina or No. 7 High Point in Saturday's championship game. Gardner-Webb (32-28) is eliminated.
Liberty took an early 1-0 lead with a run in the second inning, getting a runner to second quickly when Alex Close walked and moved up on a wild pitch. A fly ball moved Close to third and he scored on an RBI single from Tyler Cox.
Gardner-Webb tied the game in the fourth when catcher John Harris hammered a 1-0 fastball deep over the wall in right. Liberty starter Brooks Roy was able to recover to get the next three outs, and the Flames retook the lead in the bottom half.
A throwing error allowed Michael Robertson to reach leading off the bottom of the fourth, and he came around to score following a wild pitch and a single to right field from Close for a 2-1 lead.
The Runnin' Bulldogs answered in the top of the fifth to knot the score, 2-2. Scott Johnson got on base via a walk with one out and raced around to score on a hit-and-run single by Benji Jackson when the ball was booted in right field. Jackson moved to second on the play, but more damage was avoided when Adam McFarland's hard liner was snagged at first base by Close to end the frame.
Liberty got runners to third base in both the fifth and sixth innings, but Gardner-Webb starter Brock Wilson was able to work out of each jam to keep the game tied.
Gardner-Webb took advantage of another Flames' miscue in the top of the eighth, as Adam McFarland reached second base on a two-bag error in right field with two outs. The Flames went to the bullpen in favor of southpaw Jared Lyons, and Harris brought home pinch runner Danny Yelverton with a nice piece of hitting, fighting off an inside fastball up the middle for an RBI single and a 3-2 lead.
Scott Coleman singled to right center to put two men on board and Dusty Quattlebaum reached safely on a fielder's choice to shortstop when Coleman slid in safely at second - loading the bases. A hard grounder down the line by Brad Collins was snagged at third base and Dalton Sype made a strong throw to end the brief rally.
Close led off the bottom of the ninth with a line drive single to right and moved into scoring position on a nicely placed sacrifice bunt by Bryan Aanderud. A groundout by Cox to first base moved Close to third with two outs, setting up Wimmer's heroics.
Howell (3-4) took the loss in relief, allowing just three hits in 2.2 innings with a strikeout. Wilson was sharp in a no decision start, hurling 6.0 innings and allowing just one earned run (four strikeouts) against his hometown team.
Harris (2-for-4, HR, 2 RBI) had two of Gardner-Webb's six hits, with Jackson (1-for-4), Coleman (1-for-4), Hodge (1-for-4) and Canady (1-for-4) also collecting base knocks. Coleman ended the season riding a 33-game streak of reaching base safely.
Liberty's Matt Marsh (1-1) picked up the relief win, pitching 1.1 scorless innings (one hit). Wimmer (2-for-4, HR, 2 RBI) had two of the Flames' nine hits.
QUOTE FROM GARDNER-WEBB HEAD COACH RUSTY STROUPE
"This was a great college baseball game, we just happened to end up on the wrong side of the score. We played well and were able to do so all week. We came out and played four good games and played some of our best baseball at the end of the season. That's all you can ask for, and I'm very proud of that."