Apr 27, 2010

Softball earns weekend split

by Daniel Martinez

 

The Liberty University softball team coughed up a 3-0 lead in the first game of Saturday’s doubleheader against the Longwood University Lancers, losing 7-6, but recovered with a very solid effort in the second game, coming away with a 6-3 win. 

The April 24 contests came on the heels of a record-setting Wednesday victory. When the Lady Flames took the second game of a doubleheader versus Hampton University at midweek — the day after they similarly swept a doubleheader from Norfolk State University — they had won 12 games in a row, a new record for the program. The old record, 11 consecutive wins, was set by the 1986 Lady Flames and matched by the 1997 team. 

Early on Saturday, the Lady Flames showed themselves to be befitting of their strong 32-11 record. Pitcher Tiffani Smith was on fire, striking out nine Lancers in the first four innings, including four batters in a row at one point.  

“Tiffani’s doing a terrific job for us,” Liberty head coach Paul Wetmore said. 

In the bottom of the first, Smith’s teammates gave her a lead to work with. Center fielder Amber DePasquale drew a walk with the bases loaded, and left fielder Meredith Baisden punched a single into left for two more runs.  

Other than Brooke Short’s home run with nobody on in the third inning, Smith cruised until the fifth, when a single was followed by a Danielle Howard error at third base. A pitch then got past catcher Ashley Bensinger, scoring one run, and a sacrifice fly by the next hitter tied the game, 3-3. 

The two teams traded runs in the next inning, making it 5-4 Longwood going into the top of the seventh. With one out in the frame, the umpire appeared to miscall an important play at third base, calling a Longwood runner safe after Howard applied the tag during a double steal attempt. 

Three batters later, with two outs (it would have been three if the play at third had gone the other way) Longwood third baseman Amy Betterton ripped a line drive into the left field corner, sending all three runners to the plate. Two scored, but Bensinger blocked the plate and put the tag on the third for out number three.  

 The Lady Flames rallied briefly but came up short. Shortstop Kelly Strickland did hit her 15th home run of the year — a two-run shot that made it a 7-6 game — in the bottom of the seventh, but it wasn’t enough. The streak was over. 

“(Tiffani) did well enough to win,” Wetmore said. “But we let her down defensively (with the errors), and we (also) had some chances to come through there and we didn’t.” 

The next game was similar to the first early on. A Strickland error in the top of the third allowed two Longwood runs to score, making it a 3-2 game and erasing the breathing room given the Lady Flames by a two-run first inning. 

 

After that, however, Liberty pitcher Katrina Johnson started cruising, retiring the next 12Lancers in a row (a streak that reached the top of the seventh inning). 

“She did a great job,” Wetmore said of the freshman hurler, who pitched the whole game and gave up just five hits. “She kept them off-balance, made key pitches.  We needed that right there.” 

After a few close calls, the Lady Flames broke through in the fifth. Baisden came through with a two-out RBI single to tie it at three apiece, and Bensinger sent her home with the winning run on a booming double to left.  

“The loss lit a fire under us,” Bensinger said of the impressive comeback victory. “We were ready to get focused again.” 

The Lady Flames’ strong offensive output Saturday was reminiscent of the early-week road trip, when they outscored their opponents 33-11 in four games. The Liberty starters combined for 25 strikeouts in those four victories.

 Now 33-12, the Lady Flames look ahead to a Wednesday doubleheader against Virginia Tech, which Wetmore expects to be a tough contest. However, he has faith that his team is up for a challenge. 

“We could have gotten off track with that couple of bad plays (in game one), and we could have been whining and crying about it, but we didn’t. We came back and took care of business, and that shows a mature team.” 

Strickland was a Big South player of the week nominee, along with Johnson who was nominated for Big South pitcher of the week.

 

Contact Daniel Martinez at dpmartinez@liberty.edu.


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