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Liberty Softball Set for Season Opener

February 23, 2011
|  Lynchburg, Va.
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Amber DePasquale and the Lady Flames will open the 2011 season this weekend, competing in the College of Charleston Cougar Classic in Charleston, S.C.

The Liberty softball team will kick off the 2011 season this weekend, competing in the College of Charleston Cougar Classic in Charleston, S.C.

The Lady Flames will face Iowa State in their season opener on Thursday at noon, followed by a 6 p.m. matchup against the host Cougars that evening. Friday will feature games against Drexel and Marist at 10 a.m. and noon, respectively, and the Lady Flames will conclude their appearance in the tournament with a noon contest against Notre Dame on Sunday.

The Lady Flames are coming off a 2010 second-place regular-season finish in the Big South, and return seven position starters and two starting pitchers. Tiffani Smith became the first Lady Flame to earn Big South Pitcher of the Year honors, and Katrina Johnson was named Co-Freshman of the Year.

Liberty ended 2010 with a 39-18 overall record, and a 13-5 mark in conference play, marking the most league wins in a single season in program history. In addition, the team went a perfect 10-0 in conference play at Liberty Softball Field for the only the second time since the program's inception.

Smith is joined by fellow seniors Ashley Bensinger, Amber DePasquale and Keely McMillon. Bensinger, who led last year's squad with a .436 on-base percentage, is expected to start at catcher, while DePasquale will continue as the starting center fielder and McMillon will spend time as designated player and backup catcher.

Following the Lady Flames
Live stats will be available on LibertyFlames.com for all games this weekend. In addition, the College of Charleston Office of Athletics Communications will provide a live video stream of the Liberty vs. College of Charleston contest on Friday at 6 p.m. There is a nominal fee associated with the broadcast, and the link is available on the Liberty web site.

Scouting the Field

Iowa State
Liberty opens the 2011 season against Iowa State Friday at noon. The Cyclones are 6-4 on the year after posting a 1-3 record at the CentryLink Classic in San Marco, Texas, last weekend. Iowa State began its season Feb. 13-15, hosting the Cyclone Indoor Invitational and picking up wins over Valparaiso, South Dakota State and Western Illinois.

Juniors Bianca Lopez and Heidi Kidwell and sophomore Tori Torrescano are all hitting above .400 this year, and freshman pitcher Breeanna Holliday is 1-1 with a 1.65 ERA.

Liberty is 1-1 all-time against Iowa State, and the two teams last met in 2006. That year, the two teams met twice in the Bethune-Cookman Spring Break Classic March 18 and 19, each coming away with a win. Liberty took the first game, 2-1, and the Cyclones came back the next day for a 4-1 victory.

College of Charleston
The Lady Flames face the host Cougars at 6 p.m. Friday. College of Charleston finished sixth in the SoCon last season after posting an overall record of 24-27 and a 10-13 mark in conference play.

The team is 6-3 on the year after sweeping Big South member Charleston Southern, 6-3 and 4-3, Tuesday afternoon. The Cougars are now riding a five-game winning streak.
Amanda Lonergan, a lefty outfielder, is batting .333 for the Cougars, while sophomore infielder Stephanie Saylors is 2-2 in the circle with 29 strikeouts and a 2.75 ERA.

The Lady Flames are 3-1 all-time against the Cougars, and College of Charleston was victorious in the most recent meeting on Feb. 24, 2007. The Cougars took a 3-2 decision in that contest, which was part of the KSU Classic in Kennesaw, Ga.

Drexel
Liberty will line up against the Dragons of Drexel in the first game on Saturday at 10 a.m.

The Dragons are winless this season, posting an 0-4 record at the Campbell tournament in Buies Creek, N.C., Feb. 11-12. In that event, Drexel fell to Campbell, SIU-Edwardsville, and twice to Virginia.

So far, the team is paced by junior pitcher/outfielder Hillary Allen, who is hitting .636 with seven hits. Allen and freshman Shelby Taylor are both 0-2 in the circle, posting ERAs of 4.15 and 8.31, respectively.
This will mark the first-ever meeting between Liberty and Drexel.

Marist
The Lady Flames and the Red Foxes will square off at noon on Saturday for Liberty's fourth game of the tournament.

Marist, like Liberty, will be making its season debut at the Cougar Classic this weekend. In 2010, the Red Foxes finished 10-35 overall and 4-12 in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference (MAAC). The team has no seniors, and featured returners include junior infielder Nicole DiVirgilio, who finished last year with a .267 batting average.

The Lady Flames and the Red Foxes faced off three times between 1998 and 2000, with Liberty taking all three wins.

Notre Dame
The Lady Flames will meet the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame for their final appearance in the tournament, Sunday at noon. Notre Dame is the only team in the tournament that has received Top 25 votes this year.

The Fighting Irish are a perfect 5-0 on the year after winning the title at the UCF Invitational, Feb. 18-20, in Orlando, Fla. The team gave up two or less runs in four out of five contests.

This year's team is led by junior outfielder Alexa Maldonado, who is hitting .500 with seven hits and six RBIs. Meanwhile, rookie right-hander Laura Winter is 2-0 in the circle with a 0.84 ERA and 11 strikeouts.

Notre Dame finished the 2010 regular season as the BIG EAST co-champion, and finished third in the conference tournament. The Fighting Irish also competed in the 2010 NCAA Regionals, falling to Michigan, 12-2.

Liberty and Notre Dame have only met once, when the Fighting Irish took a 3-2 decision on Feb. 28, 1999, at the Choo Choo Classic in Chattanooga, Tenn.