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Ten moments that shaped Liberty athletics in 2018-19: Nos. 6-5

Ten moments that shaped Liberty athletics in 2018-19: Nos. 6-5

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We continue our look back at the 10 moments that defined Liberty athletics this past season. Today, we look at Nos. 6 and 5 with the stunning success in the inaugural season of the ASUN and a program that got hot at the right time.

6. Liberty claims Bill Bibb All-Sports Trophy

Liberty’s athletic program was a dominant force in the Big South Conference, winning 14 Sasser Cup titles in 21 seasons as a member. When the Flames announced the move to the ASUN Conference in May 2018, the discussions revolved around the strong competition in the conference and how those programs would challenge Liberty.

Liberty, safe to say, made a strong first impression on the conference.

The Flames won the Bill Bibb All-Sports Trophy, which is awarded to the top athletics program in the ASUN. Liberty also captured the Jesse Fletcher and Sherman Day trophies for top men’s and women’s programs, respectively.

It was a banner year for the 17 athletic programs that compete in the ASUN. Two programs shared regular-season titles, six claimed championships, and several others finished second or advanced to the conference tournament championship:

• The men’s and women’s track & field teams swept the indoor and outdoor conference championship titles

• The men’s basketball team shared the regular-season title with Lipscomb and won the conference tournament title in thrilling fashion over the Bisons

• The baseball team fell to second in the regular-season standings in the final series of the season, but rebounded to win the conference tournament title over Stetson

• The women’s tennis team won a share of the regular-season title with North Florida and was the No. 1 seed for the conference tournament

• The men’s and women’s cross country teams finished second in the ASUN championships

• The men’s golf team finished second to North Florida in the three-day ASUN championship

• The men’s tennis and softball teams finished second in the regular-season standings

• The women’s basketball team overcame a slow start to the season to advance to the tournament title game

• The women’s lacrosse team finished second in regular-season standings and advanced to the tournament title game

And the three programs that didn’t finish first or second in the regular-season standings (volleyball and men’s and women’s soccer) advanced to postseason play.

5. Baseball gets hot in postseason play, wins ASUN tournament title

Liberty Baseball 05

Liberty's Jonathan Embry swings during the Flames' last regular season game against Duke at Liberty Baseball Stadium in Lynchburg on Tuesday, May, 14, 2019. 

Scott Jackson’s fingerprints are becoming more and more visible on the Liberty baseball program. Pitching is a priority and defense is emphasized. As long as both of those aspects are taken care of, the offense will come.

There were signs during Jackson’s first two seasons that the program was taking the steps forward to succeed with his philosophy.

And it all came together during a remarkable 2019 in which everything fell into place for a deep postseason run.

Liberty rode its strong pitching to win the ASUN tournament title and advance to the Chapel Hill Regional. The Flames finished the season with 43 victories, tied for the most in a single season with the 2010 team.

Liberty’s weekend rotation of Andrew McInvale, Joseph Adametz and Noah Skirrow remained healthy for the entire season, allowing Mason Meyer to develop into a reliable midweek starter.

Meyer’s development was instrumental in the Flames picking up marquee victories that made their overall resume look more appealing to the selection committee.

The Flames went 7-3 against Atlantic Coast Conference teams in midweek play with victories over Wake Forest, Virginia Tech (twice), North Carolina, Virginia and Duke (twice).

Meyer was also electric in 6 1/3 innings against Tennessee in a 6-1 victory to open the Chapel Hill Regional.

Jonathan Embry had a breakout season as the Flames’ catcher and No. 2 hitter. He was the ASUN player of the year and was later selected by the Tampa Bay Rays in the 10th round of June’s Major League Baseball first-year player draft.

Closer Evan Brabrand, who gave Jackson a bonafide arm in the ninth inning with 13 saves, was named to three All-America teams (Collegiate Baseball, PerfectGame and the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association) and was taken by the Miami Marlins in the ninth round of the MLB Draft.

The Flames were at the top of the ASUN standings for the majority of the regular season until the final weekend at FGCU, when the Eagles took 2 out of 3 to claim the No. 1 seed for the conference tournament.

Liberty, which fell into the loser’s bracket of the tournament, rode its strong pitching by allowing 10 runs over the final four games to win the tournament title. The Flames became the first team to win the ASUN title in their first year in the conference since UCF in 1993.

Damien Sordelett covers Liberty University athletics and local golf for The News & Advance. Reach him at (434) 385-5550.

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