Liberty, who went a school record 42-19 last season, finds motivation in Big South conference mate and 2011 Super Regional participant Coastal Carolina. Keeping up with Coastal seems to be a ongoing process for every team in the conference, but Toman is convinced he enters 2011 with the neccessary pieces to do so.
“We’re getting stronger, recruiting stronger, and spending more time in the weight room,” explains Toman. “We lost nine seniors last year, so there will be rebuilding.”
To rebuild his team, Toman and his coaching staff brought in half freshmen and half transfers. High expectations exist for Liberty’s transfers, as Toman will trot them into starting positions right off the bat. Freshmen will get a chance to work themselves into the lineup and get adjusted to college ball.
“When I was at South Carolina, we said we weren’t opposed to playing freshmen – they’re usually quite good – but would you rather field a 18 year old or a 22 year old?” asked Toman, who worked at South Carolina for eleven years. “Who has more college ball experience? I still believe that. We’ll get in freshmen – standout freshmen – where we can, and work in a few sophomores too.”
“You never want to be too young,” further explained Toman. “When coaches state, ‘We’re a young team,’ I say that they haven’t been recruiting well. You never want to be too young.”
Toman’s key transfers look to contribute on the field and pitching staff. Junior college transfer Casey Rasmus has won the spot of catcher. Rasmus not only has experience from his time at Gulf Coast College, but from his brother Colby, a CF/RF for the St. Louis Cardinals. Zack Haley won the job at second base during fall ball, coming to Liberty from Yavapai College in his hometown of Prescott, Arizona.
The pitching staff will see a boost from Blake Forslund, a sophomore transfer from the University of Virginia. Toman praised Forslund’s performances during fall ball and in summer league with the Carolina-Virginia Collegiate League. Forslund has significant family ties to Liberty – his father Mike was a standout on the football team in the early 1980s.
One of the standout freshmen who will find time on the mound this season is Willi Martin, a right hander out of Odessa, Florida. Toman was excited about Martin’s abilities as shown in the fall.
Solid pitching and keeping runs off the scoreboard will be key to Liberty’s success this year, as Toman worries about the introduction of the new BBCOR bats and their impact on home runs. “We hit close to 50 home runs as a team last year, which was a great move for us. It took a few years of getting bigger, but we were on a good pace to start to get up to the 80-100 home run range, like the best teams.
“Now, some of the guys that I thought would break out for 15 or so home runs this season won’t because of the new bats. But this isn’t a problem exclusive to us – I could see home runs cut in half nationwide.,” predicts Toman. “I don’t like the rule, but we have to adhere to it. No one likes a decrease in home runs, so it’ll be interesting to see if they go back to the old bats in a few years.”
Toman could see some players, including a handful of his own, who may even find an up-tick in production with the new style bat. “There are those guys that just work well with a wood bat, and this may suit them well. They might surprise us all and pick up the lack of home runs. We’ll see how it pans out.”
Despite the change in bats, Liberty has high hopes for the upcoming season, including a bid to a regional. “Last year we had 42 wins, but didn’t receive a regional bid. We were disappointed,” says Toman. “This season, we want to win 42 or more games and make our way to a regional.”
The Flames’ early schedule will be a test of the team’s new lineup. “It’s hard to open on the road when you’ve lost nine seniors, but it is necessary because of the weather. We’ve scheduled some big teams this season, plus the Big South is getting better as a conference, so we’ll face some great teams right away.
“The Big South has a lot of new coaches, and many athletic directors who are eager to put money into baseball, and make baseball a big sport. So that increases our competition, and makes us all better. We’re all playing catchup with Coastal.”
Hanging tough with Coastal Carolina isn’t the only motivation Liberty has. A well known Christian school, Toman and his staff is set on ensuring they produce good baseball players and even better people.
“It’s more than baseball for us. All the players that we recruit are good in character and morals. They are good guys, and we want them to be. We are all playing for the Lord here at Liberty.”