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Lady Flames Sweep Panthers To Reclaim Share Of Conference's Top Spot
With the pair of victories, the Lady Flames up their overall record to 36-18 on the season, tying the record for the second most victories in a season for the program. Also, the two conference wins ups Liberty's record to 7-2 in league action this year, placing the Lady Flames in a four-way tie for first place along with Birmingham-Southern (7-3), Coastal Carolina (7-2) and Radford (7-3) for the number one seed in the upcoming Big South Softball Championship.
In the first game, the Lady Flames wasted little time getting on the scoreboard as Dawn Jeffs dropped her team-leading 15th double of the season down the left field line on the second Liberty at bat in the first inning, while Melissa Muehlenfeld's throw back into the infield clipped off of Grace Stokes' glove and allowed Jeffs to second on the two-base error.
Birmingham-Southern tied the game in the top of the third inning as Brooke Reed led off the frame with a single down the third base line. After moving to second on her team-leading 12th stolen base of the season, the third baseman scored on a base hit to left field by Nicki Rombough to knot the contest at 1-1.
The score remained the same until the bottom of the fourth inning as Shannon McKain connected on her fifth home run of the season, sending the solo homer just over the fence in center field to give Liberty all the runs it would need.
Terra Lowe took over from there as she outdueled Kristina Villavicencio, who came into the game tied for the league lead in victories, as Lowe scattered four hits and gave up one run, while fanning eight batters en route to picking up her career-high 14th win of the season.
Villavicencio suffered the tough luck loss as she allowed two runs, only one of which was earned, on five hits, while striking out five batters in the complete-game effort.
Offensively, Jeffs led Liberty was she was 2-for-3 from the plate, while McKain finished the game 1-for-3 with the solo homer in the fourth.
The second game proved to be a bit of a different story as both team's found their offensive groove with Liberty finishing with nine runs on 13 hits, while the Panthers tallied five runs on nine hits.
The Panthers took the first lead of the game in the second inning as the visitors loaded the bases to start the frame with singles by Tifani Talbert and Heather Fox, while Raquel Sanfiel reached on an error. Kayle Backlund followed with a RBI base hit to left to score Talbert, while a groundout by Meehlenfeld plated Sanfiel to give BSC the early 2-0 edge.
However, Liberty came right back in the bottom half of the inning as singles to left and center field by McKain and Beth Hensley gave Liberty base runs at the corners. The Lady Flames got on the scoreboard with a double steal play that allowed McKain to score from third, while Jeffs drove in Hensley with a base hit to left field to tie the game at 2-2.
The Panthers added two more runs in the fourth inning as Rombough led off the frame with a single to center field, while Jennifer Welborn connected on her eighth home run of the season to left field to give the visitors a 4-2 lead.
Liberty trimmed the lead back to one run in the bottom of the third inning as McKain started a two-out rally with a triple down the right field line, while Sarah Swor drove her in with a single up the middle off of Stokes' glove to cut the lead to 4-3.
The Lady Flames reclaimed the lead for good in the fourth inning as Liberty scored three runs and batted around the order in the frame, while capitalizing on two Panther errors. Jessica Moore, who started the scoring outburst with a single to right field, scored as an Ashley William's ground ball to shortstop that was misplayed, while McKain belted a double to center field to drive in Jeffs and Williams to give Liberty a 6-4 lead.
The Panthers pulled within one in the sixth inning as Heather Fox hit her first home run of the season with a solo homer to left field to pull within one run of Liberty, 6-5.
But Liberty put the game out of reach in the sixth inning as Williams connected on her 10th home run of the season with a solo shot over the fence in left center field, while Lowe drove in pinch runner Erika Rasmussen and Hensley with a two-RBI double to the gap in right center field to secure the conference doubleheader sweep.
Swor upped her record to 14-9 on the season as she picked up the victory by allowing five runs on seven hits in 5 1/3 innings of work, while Lowe finished off the final 1 2/3 innings of action by allowing just two hits and striking out one to pick up her second career save.
Sanfiel suffered the loss as she allowed six runs, three of which were earned, on nine hits in 3 2/3 innings of work, before Villavicencio (1.2 IP, 1 H, 1 ER, 1 R, 1 BB, 1 SO) and Erin Haggard (0.2 IP, 3 H, 2 ER, 2 R) finished off the final two innings of the game.
McKain was 3-for-4 with two RBI and two runs scored from the plate to lead Liberty, while both Swor and Hensley finished the second game a perfect 3-for-3 from the Lady Flames with Hensley scoring twice.
The Lady Flames will take on their second nationally-ranked opponent of the season on Thursday when they return to the diamond for a road trip to Blacksburg, Va. where they will face 21st-ranked Virginia Tech. First pitch of the non-conference doubleheader is scheduled for 3 p.m.
Birmingham-Southern will conclude its Big South Conference schedule with a doubleheader tomorrow at Radford starting at 1 p.m. in a key battle for seeding in the upcoming Big South Softball Championship.