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No. 1 Seed Winthrop Ends LU's Tourney Run
With the victory, No. 1 seed Winthrop raises its record to 36-17 on the season and advances to next weekend's NCAA Regional championships. The Eagles, who claimed their conference-record sixth title on the afternoon, will learn who their opening-round opponent and site of competition tomorrow evening, when this year's NCAA Tournament field is announced live on ESPNnews and ESPNU at 10 p.m.
The loss brings to a close Liberty's 2008 season with a 20-40-1 record, while the championship game appearance was the Lady Flames' fourth to move Liberty into a tie with former Big South member UNC Greensboro for the third-most title game appearances in conference history.
Winthrop jumped out on top quickly, scoring two runs in the first inning, thanks in part to some early-game jitters by Liberty. Lisa Kingsmore reached base on a fielder's choice play after Tessa Thomas, who reached on an error, was forced out at second.
Stephanie Reid followed with a double to the gap in left center, giving the Eagles a pair of base runners in scoring position. Starting pitcher Tiffani Smith skipped a ball in front of the plate, allowing Kingsmore to score, while Mallory Hogan dropped a bunt down the first-base line and Reid beat the throw to give the No. 1 seed an early two-run lead, 2-0.
Liberty quickly trimmed the lead in half in the top of the second inning with one swing of the bat, as Ashley Williams clocked her 44th career home run, a solo shot to left field to get the Lady Flames within a run, 2-1.
The score remained the same until the bottom of the fourth inning, when back-to-back extra base hits led to two more runs. Jo-Lynn Smith led off the frame with a double to center field, directly followed by Lenny Stoddart's third home run of the year. The two-run blast to left chased Smith from the contest and gave the host a three-run lead, 4-1.
Winthrop plated two insurance runs in the bottom of the fifth inning, beginning when Thomas reached base on Liberty's second error of the day. Kingsmore drew a walk from reliever Sarah Ellis, followed by Reid's RBI single up the middle to plate Thomas from second.
Hogan lofted a ball deep enough in foul territory to left to allow Kingsmore to cross the plate for the second time on the day, giving Winthrop all the run support it would need.
The Lady Flames, who recorded three hits following Williams' solo blast in the second, made some noise in the seventh, getting back-to-back base hits from J'nae Jefferson and Keely McMillon to threaten during their final at bat. But reliever Izzy Trottier got a strikeout and a ground out to secure the championship for the Eagles.
Big South first-team all-conference pitcher Megan Evans was the victor, upping her record to 18-6 on the season, allowing one run on three hits over six innings of work. Trottier pitched the seventh, allowing two hits and fanning a batter.
Smith suffered the loss for Liberty to finish her first year in a Liberty uniform with a 7-14 record. The rookie allowed four runs on three hits over three-plus innings of work. Ellis closed out the last three innings, allowing two runs on one hit, while walking one and fanning another.
Liberty out hit its opponent for the fifth-straight tournament game, 5-4, led by Amber DePasquale, who was 2-for-3. Keely McMillon, Jefferson and Williams all finished the game 1-for-3, with Williams driving in Liberty's lone run with her 11th home run of the year.
The contest brings to a close Williams' record assault on Liberty's record books. The four-time Big South second-team all-conference honoree finished her career at Liberty's all-time leader in games played (241), games started (239 – tied), hits (249), at bats (781), doubles (52) and RBIs (168), while finishing second with 44 career home runs.
Williams, along with fellow senior Shannon McKain and Jefferson were each named to the Big South all-tournament team, honoring the trio's efforts in guiding Liberty to its championship game run.