DELAND, Fla. - In its first year of membership in the ASUN Conference, No. 2 Liberty won the ASUN Conference Baseball Championship title by defeating No. 6 Stetson 4-3 Sunday. With the victory, the Flames have now secured an automatic berth into the upcoming NCAA Tournament with their journey to begin with the selection show on Monday.
The Flames struck for four runs in the second inning to take an early lead in the contest, getting a pair of RBI singles from Ben Highfill and Gray Betts to open the distance as the team looked to secure an auto-bid into the NCAA Tournament. Starter Andrew McInvale helped to keep the lead as he worked through six scoreless innings, escaping jams in the fourth, fifth and sixth innings with well-timed strikeouts and groundouts as the Second Team All-Conference pitcher exited in line for his 10th win of the year.
After a shaky start, Stetson pitching battened down the hatches and kept the Flames off the board the rest of the way, using Robbie Peto, Ryan Stark and Austin Bogart to keep the deficit at four while limiting the opposition to three hits over 6.1 innings of combined work. That allowed the Hatters the opportunity to trim the lead, doing so in the seventh when the Hatters scored three runs and left the tying and go-ahead runners on base.
Getting a pair on, Stetson shortstop Jorge Arenas came to bat and lined a ball into left field for a base hit, later advancing and seeing two runs score after the ball trickled under the glove of left fielder Gray Betts. Next to bat was Noah Dickerson who grounded a ball to short out of the area of Cam Locklear who had to range to his right and missed the glove-only play to allow Arenas to score. After the scoring, Evan Brabrand was able to escape the scoring as he induced Kyle Ball into a flyout.
Both teams cruised through the eighth, setting up a wild finish to the ninth inning and fates of both Liberty and Stetson. The Hatters drew a leadoff walk from Andrew MacNeil to get the tying run on, but Jacob Koos and Eric Foggo were not able to advance him, putting the Hatters' backs against the wall with one out left. Jorge Arenas dropped a single into right-center and MacNeil smartly moved from first to third, setting up Noah Dickerson for the opportunity to tie the game. The Freshman put the bat on the ball, but Liberty second baseman Will Wagner was able to scoop the grounder and toss on to first for the final out of the 2019 ASUN Baseball Championship.
Jonathan Embry was named 2019 ASUN Championship Most Valuable Player, leading the Flames to the title after winning Player of the Year honors for the regular season. Four other Flames players joined Embry on the team including Gray Betts, Cam Locklear, Andrew McInvale and Brandon Rohrer. 2019 Runner-up Stetson saw three players honored with Eric Foggo, Danny Garcia and Chris Gonzalez recognized for their play in the postseason. The Hatters finished the season at 27-32 after making the ASUN Championship Final for the second-straight season.
The first conference title for Liberty since 2013 when it won the Big South, the Flames end the pre-tournament season at 42-19 to hold the best record of any team in the ASUN. The season continues for the first-year ASUN members who now await their first destination for regional play in the NCAA Tournament. The selection show takes place on Memorial Day, Monday, May 27 at 12 PM ET on ESPNU.
2019 ASUN Baseball Championship All-Tournament Team
P - Chris Gonzalez, Stetson
P - Andrew McInvale, Liberty
P - Danny Garcia, Stetson
C - Jonathan Embry, Liberty (MVP)
IF - Eric Foggo, Stetson
IF - Chris Berry, North Florida
IF - Cam Locklear, Liberty
IF - Dakota Julylia, Jacksonville
OF - Brandon Rohrer, Liberty
OF - Maddux Houghton, Lipscomb
OF - Gray Betts, Liberty
Liberty vs. Stetson Game Notes
- Liberty is the first team since UCF in 1993 to win the ASUN Championship title in its first year of membership with the league
- No undefeated team in the Finals that lost the first game has come back to win the second contest since UCF did so in 2001
- With 114 innings played this Championship in 11 games, the ASUN has set a record for most innings in one championship of that length, breaking the 108 played in 2008
- Tournament MVP Jonathan Embry finished the Championship hitting .473 (9-19) with one home run and five RBIs