By Jack Sintic

Bellarmine baseball faces Liberty University at home this weekend in a three-game series beginning Friday at 2 p.m.

Bellarmine is coming off a three-game home series against University of North Alabama last weekend where the Knights swept their conference opponent.

The Knights also defeated Western Kentucky University 7-3 on March 16.

Most recently, however, the Knights lost to Austin Peay State University 9-1 on Tuesday.

Bellarmine has had an up-and-down start to the season, losing its first three conference games against Kennesaw State University. The Knights appear to be heating up, though, winning four out of the last five games.

The Knights sit at 7-11 overall and 3-3 in Atlantic Sun Conference.

The Liberty Flames (14-5, 3-0) had a two-win sweep over VCU and a 10-2 victory against Virginia on Wednesday, extending their winning streak to 12 games.

Liberty’s winning streak is “a new Liberty NCAA DI mark for consecutive victories,” according to a Liberty media release. “The previous NCAA DI program record was nine consecutive games.”

Bellarmine head coach Larry Owens said, “We’re gonna get tested, ‘cause Liberty’s really good.”

Bellarmine’s player to watch in the Liberty series will be senior third baseman Josh Finerty. Finerty earned the ASUN co-player of the week title for his performance against UNA and WKU.

Finerty went 10 for 19 for the week with a .526 batting average and a slugging percentage of .947. He had two homers, six RBIs and six runs.

Finerty said he was honored to earn the award and was also hopeful to see many of his teammates on the list in the future.

“I want to see one of our guys get it every week,” he said.

Despite Finerty’s excitement to be the first Bellarmine baseball player to earn the award, he said he probably shouldn’t have been the first.

“Really I shouldn’t have been the first… One of our teammates, Matt Higgins, kinda got snubbed earlier on in the year. He had a really good week and didn’t get player of the week, and he probably should’ve,” Finerty said.

Kennesaw State senior outfielder Alex Carballo secured player of the week over Higgins for his role in the Owls’ victory over No. 5 Georgia.

The Knights will meet Finerty’s co-player of the week in the Liberty series. Outfielder Aaron Anderson was a big part of Liberty’s second upset over No. 17 North Carolina on March 16, hitting two doubles, earning two walks and scoring twice. He batted .545 with four RBIs and four runs scored for the week.

Anderson is hitting .342 on the season, leading the Flames in batting average.

Finerty and Anderson will play large roles for their teams, which look to each of them to lead.

“I wonder what kind of week he’s [Anderson] going to have,” Finerty said. “I’d definitely like to outperform him. Hopefully, we all outperform those guys.”

Bellarmine lefty Shane Barringer was another impact player against North Alabama. In the second game of the series, he pitched eight innings, recording eight strikeouts, two hits and allowing no runs. The Knights defeated UNA 5-1 in that game.

Owens also said some of the younger players on the team will be high-impact players for the team this year as well. He highlighted Davis Crane, Noah Nelson and Tommy Dilz as freshmen that will make a difference for the Knights.

“They’re all going to play a part. Nobody’s outright won that piece, but they’re ready,” Owens said about their roles on the team.

Crane hit his first college home run Sunday against UNA, a two-run homer to make the score 6-3.

Owens has preached consistency all season as a key to victory for his team.

Finerty echoed his coach’s philosophy for their play style.

“LO has been preaching consistency all year,” Finerty said. “Just being the same every day, going about your business, trying to get into a routine… the little stuff.”

Finerty also said the key to having success is taking care of the basics: not giving up free bases, making plays, catching and throwing well and not striking out. “Then once that happens you get the big barrels like Higgins, [Chris] Gambert and [Jacob] Mulcahy that are hitting home runs and leading the conference,” he said.

Gambert and Higgins are tied for second in the ASUN in home runs with four, only one behind Logan Mathieu from Liberty. Finerty, Clayton Mehlbauer and Mulcahy sit just a spot behind their teammates with three homers each.

Owens said not giving up free bases is a part of being consistent.

“When you start playing and giving up a lot of free bases, you start playing not to mess up and you start playing not to lose, and that’s a bad place to be in,” Owens said.

Owens said consistency is not only in terms of winning.

 “Consistency [is] in the approach and the mindset and the focus of what you’re doing and being consistent with everything you do,” he said.

Owens approaches this series the same way he does all the other games.

“You can get hung up on your opponent. You can play your opponent, or you can play the game,” Owens said. “The game is just a bunch of situations they’ve been in over and over and over again.

“The ability for us to acquire information and scouting reports is huge, and it’s really important and really helpful, but at the same time, I don’t want them to get too hung up on that. I want to focus on what we do and do what we do well.”

Liberty also wields a deep pitching staff that has an overall ERA of 3.47. Righty relief pitcher David Erickson has logged a 1.57 ERA and 27 strike outs across 10 appearances and 23 innings pitched.

“Liberty’s expected rotation for the weekend consists of Trevor Delaite (2-1, 2.28 ERA, 29 strikeouts in 27.2 innings pitched), Mason Meyer (2-1, 2.31, 27 in 23.1) and Trey Gibson (3-2, 4.82, 26 in 18.2),” according to a media release from Adam Pruiett, Bellarmine’s assistant director of athletic communications.

Owens said: “They’ve got a really good bullpen. Every arm out of the bullpen is going to be 90 or better. Every arm…There’s no let-up.”

Finerty said the match-up against a set of good pitchers will be fun.

“I think they have some good pitching, which will be fun to see ‘cause we have some high-level hitters that hit good pitching well. Sometimes we’ll face a better pitcher and hit even better,” Finerty said.

Despite the threat Liberty poses, Owens said he is ready and confident in his players.

“We’re up for the challenge. It doesn’t faze us. It doesn’t change the way we go about our work or our day,” he said.

He said some of his players may not have been recruited for Division I but they’re “Division I talent.”

Liberty’s deep pitching and strong hitters for both teams should make this series an entertaining one.

“We’re looking forward to playing them, and they’ll be looking forward to playing us,” Finerty said.

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