CHARLESTON, S.C. - Charleston Southern was unable to cool off the Flames' bats in the first game of the weekend series on Friday night as Liberty topped the Buccaneers at the CSU Ballpark, 12-2.
Michael Sconzo led CSU (11-8, 1-3) at the plate with a perfect 3-for-3 performance from the plate including an RBI double in the bottom of the second inning to pace the Bucs' offense on the day. Nate Blanchard added two hits in the game, including his second home run of the season to lead off the eighth inning, as the Bucs dropped their third Big South game in 2017.
Liberty (13-7, 3-1) was paced by eight strong innings on the mound by Caleb Evans (4-2) as the Flames' right-hander allowed six hits and two runs while striking out two in the win. Andrew Kowalo led Liberty at the plate with a 4-for-5 performance including a pair of doubles, a home run, four RBI, and four runs scored.
The Flames jumped on CSU starter Cody Maw (1-2) in the top of the second with Sammy Taormina, Kowalo, and Eric Grabowski all doubling in the inning as Liberty took the 5-0 lead after their at-bat.
CSU answered in the bottom of the frame as Chris Singleton hustled home on Sconzo's one-out RBI single through the right side of the infield. However, the Bucs were unable to take advantage of the base runner to cut further into the Liberty lead.
Kowalo connected on a two-run home run to add to the Liberty lead in the third inning. D.J. Artis added an RBI single in the fifth and Jake Barbee brought him home two batters later with a groundout to second to give Liberty the 9-1 lead in the fifth.
Blanchard led off the bottom of the eighth with his second home run of the season. The senior second baseman cleared the right field fence on Evans' first pitch of the inning to narrow the gap to 9-2.
Liberty added three more runs in the ninth as Kowalo doubled in Payton Scarbrough and Dylan Allen brought home two with a single to right field to provide the final margin.
Sconzo's perfect day at the plate was his third multi-hit game of the season as the junior catcher shows signs of breaking out of a minor slump at the plate. Sconzo has hit safely in 14 of CSU's 19 games on the season, but was held hitless this past weekend at Longwood.
Blanchard's solo home run in the bottom of the eighth inning made him just the second CSU player with multiple home runs in the 2017 season. Blanchard joins Cole German (3) as the only two Bucs to leave the Ballpark multiple times this season.
Daniel Johnson and Corey Ireson turned in a dominant stretch for the CSU bullpen in the Liberty sixth thru eighth innings on Friday night. Johnson struck out the side in the Flames' sixth inning, just the third time a CSU pitcher has retired the side on strikes this season. Ireson took over in the seventh and struck out two of the three batters he faced in the frame before setting down the side in the eighth as the Bucs retired 10 straight Flames heading into the ninth.
"It was a tough one tonight, but Liberty can swing the bats. We got into some bad counts against these guys and they made us pay. We're not out of it (the series). We've been here before and have an opportunity tomorrow for another game to see where we're at the end of the weekend," – Interim Head Coach Adam Ward following the series-opening loss to the Flames.
"I'm really happy for those guys today. DJ (Daniel Johnson) and Corey (Ireson) are two guys we haven't gotten in there as much as we'd like, but they definitely made the most of their opportunity tonight. It was good to see them do well," – Ward on his relievers' performance on Friday night.
Charleston Southern is projected to start RHP Nik Constantakos (1-0, 2.25 ERA) against the Flames on Saturday afternoon. Liberty is expected to counter with RHP Evan Mitchell (1-1, 3.74 ERA).
First pitch between the Bucs and the Flames at the CSU Ballpark is set for 4 p.m. It is Little League Day at the Ballpark on Saturday with children 12 and under receiving free admission to the game. Kids will also be allowed to run the bases postgame.