College Preview Capsules: No. 25 Liberty
Liberty head coach Jim Toman didn’t expect to have Alex Close and Ashton Perritt back this season, but he’s certainly glad that he does.
Both players were drafted, and both decided to return for their senior seasons, drastically changing the outlook for the Flames as they try to earn their third straight NCAA berth.
“It’s so valuable for a program when you have juniors come back like that,” Toman said. “We’re just elated for two captains, and they’re leaders on this team, and they’re good players. They’re both going to get drafted again this season—maybe even higher.”
More than team captains and more than senior leaders, Close and Perritt provide value as quality two-way players. A first baseman, Close is the team’s top returning hitter, ticketed for the middle of the order. But he’s also been clocked as high as 91 mph on the mound and should have some innings on his stat line this season.
Meanwhile, Perritt projects as both the team’s Friday night starter and starting center fielder.
The righthander closed last season and was drafted as a pitcher, throwing 93-95 mph out of the bullpen with a well-developed changeup. But he’ll start this season in part because the Flames feel LHP Jared Lyons is better suited for a relief role than the rotation.
“(Lyons) kind of got tired and wasn’t as good in the second half of the season,” Toman said. “Instead of starting him, let’s just pitch him one inning at a time and see if he can be really good the entire year.
“And Perritt is a horse, and we feel like he’s developed a changeup and a breaking ball, and he’s 90 to 94. We feel like he can be the guy to last the whole year physically.”
Close, Perritt and Lyons are far from the team’s only returners. Most of the starting lineup remains intact, with the exception of 2B Ryan Seiz and C Danny Grauer.
It’s a lineup that boasts experience and depth. Toman predicts sophomore 3B Dylan Allen will have a breakout season after packing on 15-20 pounds in the offseason. And he said sophomore DH Andrew Yacyk has the most power of any player he’s ever coached.
“And I coached at South Carolina for 11 years,” Toman added. “I mean, he’s got light-tower power. He’s a freak physically.
“We’re going to look good getting off the bus. We’ve got some big old boys.”
And those big old buys will try to take Liberty further than they took it a season ago.
“Our guys, we weren’t really happy with how we finished last year,” Toman said. “We went to the Virginia regional and lost to Arkansas, but we’ve got about three-quarters of the team back, and they’re going to try to take the next step. Logically for us, to take the next step, we have to win a regional and get to a super, and hopefully if we stay healthy, we’ve got the ingredients to happen.”