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Newcomers Lead Liberty Past Radford in Conference Opener
The Lady Flames are 9-6 overall and 1-0 in Big South play, after winning for the sixth time in their last eight matches. Liberty is now 9-1 in its last 10 Big South Conference lid-lifters and has defeated Radford 12-straight times, dating back to 2001. Radford drops to 4-11 overall and 0-1 in the conference.
The homestanding Highlanders burst out of the gates, scoring the match's first nine points on the serve of libero Lauren Clary. Liberty was then forced to play catch-up the rest of the way. The Lady Flames finally tied the score at 26-all, after Mary Alice Pike (Sr., RS, Durham, N.C.) ended a long rally with a kill, capping a 4-0 burst.
Liberty had to fight off three game points, though, before taking its initial lead of game one. One of McCarty's (So., MB, Houston, Ala.) six kills during the opening game put Lady Flames on top, 31-30. Liberty pulled out a hard-fought, 34-32 win on a combined block by Jessica Nelson (R-Jr., OH, Tokyo, Japan) and Ashley Webber (Jr., MB, Lakeside, Calif.).
Radford was hot to begin game two as well, posting a 5-0 advantage at the outset. Again, Liberty rebounded after a slow start. The Lady Flames briefly retook the lead, 17-16, after a delay due to confusion at the scorer's table. The host Highlanders, believing the score to be incorrect in Liberty's favor, reeled off six-consecutive points to essentially remove all doubt. Radford went on to claim a relatively comfortable 30-24 victory and even the match, 1-1. Preseason all-conference performer Lindsey Poole shone in game two for the Highlanders, hitting .700 with seven kills.
Once again, Radford got out in front early in game three by scoring the first four points. The Highlanders owned a slim, 19-18 lead, before Liberty's fortunes began to change, primarily due to a couple key factors.
First, head coach Shane Pinder shook up his lineup near the end of the third game, playing freshmen Bacon (Temecula, Calif.) and Scripko (Fayetteville, N.C.) as his outside hitter tandem for the first time. Scripko responded well to the new assignment during game three, especially, posting a .714 attack percentage and five kills.
Secondly, Liberty's blocking at the net was at its best during this stage of the match, sparking a surge which saw the Lady Flames score 11 out of 15 points to go up by a 29-23 count. Three of the points during the run came courtesy of blocks. Liberty tallied five of its eight total blocks during game three, which ended in a 30-25 Lady Flame triumph.
Liberty finally got off to a fast start in the fourth and final game, when back-to-back Webber kills keyed a 4-0 game-opening run. Radford came back to take a short-lived lead, 7-6, but Bacon proved to be too much for the Highlanders to handle. The 5-6 freshman, who had not played the front row in three weeks due to injury, recorded all seven of her kills during the fourth game. Scripko also excelled at outside hitter during the stanza, recording five kills on a .500 attack percentage and providing the match-clinching kill, which sealed a 30-26 victory for the visiting Lady Flames. For the fourth and final game, Liberty hit. 356.
McCarty, Scripko and Webber all reached double figures in kills on the afternoon, and each of them hit at least .360 in the process. McCarty, an offseason transfer from Auburn, established a new career high with 19 kills on a .515 attack percentage, added two blocks and served for both Lady Flame aces.
Scripko improved her career high to 14 kills, hitting .379 with seven digs. Meanwhile, Webber hit .360 with 11 kills and a team-high four blocks.
The Lady Flames reached a couple milestones on defense as well. For the match, Liberty came up with 104 total digs, eclipsing the 100-dig plateau for the third time this season. Senior Lara Bartolomeo (L/DS, Huntington Beach, Calif.) notched 31 of the digs, marking a season high and moving her into the top five on Liberty's career list. Bartolomeo passed Anthonia Akpama (1996-99) for fifth place and now has 1,331 career digs.
Bacon (18 digs), Nelson (15 digs), Pike (15 digs) and Kallie Corbin (So., S, Beaverton, Ore.) (16 digs) made it five Lady Flames in double figures. Corbin's afternoon also included a career-high 61 assists.
Poole led all players with a career-best 24 kills for Radford. Maggie Wagner (18 kills, 15 digs) and Josie Hanners (51 assists, 12 digs) compiled double-doubles as well, in a losing effort.
Liberty will be on the road again next weekend, continuing its Big South schedule with a match at High Point, at 7 p.m. on Friday. The Panthers posted the best record of any Big South squad prior to the start of conference play, winning eight of their first 12 matches, but dropped their Big South opener to Winthrop.