Feb 3, 2009

Liberty Softball set to ring in 2009

by Jonathan Thompson

After a less than impressive 2008 campaign, the Liberty Lady Flames softball team will look to impress fans with a more experienced roster, a deep and talented bench and a belief in teamwork that they hope will carry them far this season.

Liberty posted a 20-40-1 record last year, but ended the season winning seven out of their last 10 games, which included a run into the Big South Championship game.

This year the Lady Flames squad possesses two seniors, two juniors, five sophomores and seven freshmen. And still, Head Coach Paul Wetmore has set the bar high for his young team.

“The schedule never gets any easier,” Wetmore said referring to an opening tournament that includes No. 12 Fresno State, No. 14 California and No. 20 Long Beach State. Liberty also takes on Tennessee, who was the NCAA runner up two years ago and, who Wetmore referred to as “a perennial power house.”

The remainder of Liberty’s schedule is no cakewalk either. They have two games against Florida Atlantic plus contests against Florida State, Purdue and last year’s national runner up Texas A&M.

Games against Troy, Virginia and Virginia Tech as well as a tough conference schedule should present Wetmore and his team with plenty of challenges and chances to improve.

The Big South Conference pre-season poll predicted a third place finish for Liberty but, as Wetmore believes, you can’t put much faith in pre-season polls.

“They are based on last year, and people don’t know who you’ve brought in,” Wetmore said. “We’ve brought in the best shortstop in South Carolina (Kelly Strickland) with 23 home runs. People don’t know that. Last year they picked us to finish fifth and look where we ended up.”
And even coming off a disappointing season, the Lady Flames have a great outlook on the upcoming season. Pitcher Sarah Ellis and infielder Beth Bennett, the two seniors on the young Liberty team, see great potential in their younger teammates.

“There’s just a fresh excitement to the game that these younger girls have brought,” said Ellis, who led the team with nine wins and 110 strikeouts last year. “I’m really excited to see how this year plays out.”
Bennett, who led the team last year in batting average, on-base percentage and fielding percentage, relishes the chance to impart her wisdom to the incoming players.

“Being one of the older ones, I have had to step up and do the right thing because there are younger girls watching me and learning,” Bennett said.
Many of the returning sophomores played key roles in the Lady Flames’ line up last year as freshmen. Included in that mix is utility player Amber DePasquale, leading base stealer Cassie Hendrix, and catcher Keely McMillon, who started all 61 games behind the plate last season.

“Coming in as a freshman last year and being inexperienced throughout the season, it helped to just keep playing and getting experience,” Hendrix said. “Both the losses and the wins were a great learning experience.”

Likewise, DePasquale sees benefits in the playing time acquired by all three last semester.

“Team chemistry is very important,” DePasquale said. “We know each other’s styles, strengths and weaknesses. We molded into a family, and if we play together we can win.”

The play of Bennett and Ellis, as well as juniors J’nae Jefferson and Jen Pittman, has not been overlooked by their teammates and their coaches. Wetmore sees a great benefit in, “having people that are mature in their roles.”

Likewise, freshman Brittany Kenney has acquired a great appreciation for the leaders on her team.

“I tell myself that I want to be like them, because they are so encouraging and are always there for me,” Kenney said. “It’s really good to know that you have people behind you like that all the time.”

So with role models in place, experience on the rise and intensity waiting in the wings, Liberty softball will look to find itself back on top of the Big South Conference.

Contact Jonathan Thompson at
jmthompson@liberty.edu.
 


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