Following the conclusion of Liberty's 2015 softball season, Alan York from Liberty Flames Sports Network (LFSN) caught up with second-year head coach Dot Richardson.
The Liberty softball team took a big step forward during 2015, turning in a 29-30 record while placing fourth in the Big South standings with a 12-12 conference mark. The Lady Flames posted an 18-game improvement in the win column from 2014 to 2015, the second-largest year-to-year win improvement in program history. Liberty won six conference series, while also sweeping five doubleheaders against Big South opponents.
The Lady Flames' pitching staff made major improvements as well, posting a team ERA of 3.63 while tossing seven shutouts. Liberty's seven shutout victories this season were its most since 2011, when the Lady Flames also fashioned seven shutouts.
Chandler Ball, coming off of a knee injury from 2014, was voted to the Big South All-Conference second team after going 20-11 with a 3.20 ERA and 138 strikeouts. Ball's 20 wins are tied for the second most in a single season in program history. Kenzie Friesen, who also missed the 2014 season due to a knee injury, tossed a pair of shutouts in league play, while Abby Tincher pitched a two-hit shutout against ACC foe Virginia Tech.
For the second year in a row, the Lady Flames led the Big South in stolen bases, totaling 91 steals in 2015. Tori Zavodny and Blair Lawrence tied for the team lead with 24 stolen bases apiece, while catcher Kelby Allen swiped 15 bases. Liberty's 91 steals this season were the third most in program history, as the program record of 93 stolen bases was set in 1996 and Liberty stole 92 bases during the 2014 campaign.
Liberty picked up several memorable non-conference victories, beginning with a 5-2 win over Arkansas on February 13. Tincher went the distance in her first career start, pitching Liberty to its first win over an SEC team in program history. The Lady Flames also earned one win each against Virginia Tech and Virginia, and closed out the regular season by defeating Marshall (RPI – 52), 3-1 in Huntington, W.Va.
For the second year in a row, Liberty faced two nationally-ranked teams. The Lady Flames opened up against No. 23 South Alabama, and later took on the defending national champions, the No. 1 Florida Gators.
The 2015 season saw the opening of Liberty Softball Stadium, a state-of-the-art 1,000 seat stadium with all of the latest technology and many amenities. Liberty officially dedicated its new facility prior to its April 3 doubleheader against Presbyterian. The field has been named Kamphuis Field, named after Liberty financial supporter and legendary fast pitch pitcher Dwayne Kamphuis.
Liberty opened its new stadium by hosting the Liberty Softball Classic. The Lady Flames won the first game in stadium history, 9-2 over visiting Rider on March 19. For the season, Liberty went 13-10 at Kamphuis Field at Liberty Softball Stadium.
With 12 conference wins, the Lady Flames made an eight-win improvement over 2014. Also, Liberty finished one Big South win shy of the program record set in 2010, when the Lady Flames went 13-5.
On March 28 at Campbell, Ball (four hits) and Kenzie Friesen (two) tossed back-to-back shutouts, the first time since May 13, 2011 that Liberty had recorded two consecutive shutouts.
Liberty hit a season-high four homers in a 10-7, come-from-behind win over Charleston Southern, April 12. The team trailed, 7-5, entering the seventh, before Kassidy McCoy tied it with a two-run homer and Robinson hit a game-winning three-run homer. McCoy launched two homers in the game, while Jamie Crisp hit a grand slam.
Liberty softball fans saw some dramatic softball in back-to-back games, April 18 and April 21. On April 18, the Lady Flames defeated Coastal Carolina, 5-4, in 10 innings, with Cassie Gingerich driving in Mickey Loveridge from third on a squeeze bunt. Liberty then rallied from a 4-0, seventh-inning deficit against Hampton on April 21, before winning the game, 5-4 in nine innings, as Jessica Cicerchia raced home from first on a ninth-inning single by Robinson. It marked Liberty's first back-to-back extra-inning games since 2010.
The Lady Flames earned the No. 4 seed to the 2015 Big South Softball Championships. Liberty went 1-2 at the conference tournament, highlighted by a 7-2 victory over No. 9 seed Gardner-Webb in the second round. Madison Kotchey hit her first career grand slam in the third round, a 7-5 setback to No. 2 seed Coastal Carolina which ended the Lady Flames' season.
Allen joined elite company, as she became only the third player in program history with 200 career hits, 100 career runs scored and 100 career RBI.
A total of 10 Lady Flames record at least one three-hit game this season, led by four three-hit games from Zavodny.
The Lady Flames were well-represented when the Big South postseason awards were announced, receiving 11 total conference honors.
Robinson was named Big South Scholar-Athlete of the Year, the first Liberty softball player to be named Scholar-Athlete of the Year. Robinson was later named to the Capital One Academic All-District Team, and is on the ballot to repeat as an Academic All-American.
Alexia Taylor was named Big South Freshman of the Year, the fourth Lady Flame to receive the award all-time.
Liberty placed four players on the Big South All-Conference teams, with Robinson, Taylor and Ball appearing on the second team and Zavodny receiving honorable mention.
The Lady Flames had four representatives on the Big South All-Freshman Team, twice as many as any other Big South school. Taylor, Zavodny, Kotchey and Tincher were all named to the Big South All-Freshman Team.
The team will graduate three seniors this year, in starters Allen, Robinson and Crisp. A group of 12 freshmen is set to join the returning group of Lady Flames, aiming for continued improvement in 2016 and beyond.
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