The Liberty softball team recently completed a record-breaking season, claiming its first postseason title by winning the 2017 National Invitational Softball Championship (NISC). The Lady Flames reeled off five straight wins in elimination games to claim the title at Liberty Softball Stadium, capped off by a 3-1 win over Lamar in the winner-take-all final on May 24.
Liberty went 46-24, posting a program record for victories while improving in the win column for the third year in a row. The Lady Flames earned their fourth Big South regular-season title, going 16-5 in conference play to earn the first seed for the Big South Softball Championship. Liberty made it to the winner-take-all final at the Big South Tournament, before falling to the tournament host, Longwood.
This season saw the Lady Flames show much resilience, especially evident in 15 games played after the regular season's conclusion. Liberty went 8-1 in elimination games, spanning the Big South Tournament, NISC Regionals and NISC Championship Round.
Four times this year, Liberty overcame a seventh-inning deficit while going on to win. The most important of the four came during the first game of the NISC Championship Round final, May 24 against Lamar. Trailing, 5-4, entering the seventh, the Lady Flames rallied to score four runs in the last inning to take an 8-5 win and set up the winner-take-all final.
Twice this year, the Lady Flames had to play three games in one day. The first time happened on the next-to-last day of the Big South Tournament, May 13, where Liberty fell to Longwood in the semifinal before downing Winthrop and Longwood in elimination contests later that night. On May 24, Liberty won three straight elimination games, against Kennesaw State and Lamar (twice) to win the NISC title.
The Lady Flames hosted 20 games during the inaugural NISC, including the Regionals and Championship Round. In all, Liberty went 8-2 at the event, eliminating Ohio, Illinois State, Cal Poly, Kennesaw State and Lamar.
Tori Zavodny was named the NISC Tournament MVP, and was joined on the All-Tournament Team by Amber Bishop and Kenzie Friesen.
The Lady Flames earned a program-record 17 postseason honors from the Big South, including pitcher of the year (Julia DiMartino), freshman of the year (Amber Bishop), scholar-athlete of the year (Friesen) and coach of the year (Dot Richardson). Liberty placed four players each on the Big South All-Conference first and second teams.
Liberty received a program-record four honors on the NFCA All-Mid-Atlantic Region teams, in first-teamer Autumn Bishop, second-team selections Zavodny and DiMartino and third-team choice Amber Bishop.
Liberty caught fire during April, going on a program-record 13-game winning streak from April 2 through April 18. That streak saw the Lady Flames outscore opponents, 80-6, while tossing nine shutouts during the winning streak. Liberty went 16-5 during the month of April, outscoring opponents, 120-32.
The Liberty offense produced at program-record pace, breaking nearly every program single-season record along the way. Liberty led the Big South in batting average (.305), runs scored (370), hits (561), RBI (310), doubles (92), total bases (780), sacrifice flies (16) and stolen bases (96).
Amber Bishop had a dominant freshman campaign, setting program freshman records in hits (85), runs scored (55), homers (15) and RBI (66). Her RBI total set a new overall single-season program record. She was also honored as one of the Top 25 Finalists for the Schutt Sports/NFCA National Freshman of the Year.
Zavodny led the Big South in hitting for a majority of the season, before finishing third with a .381 batting average. The three-time all-conference player finished in the top seven in the Big South in 11 different offensive categories. She will enter her senior season ranked third in program history in career runs scored (137), stolen bases (67) and triples (11), fourth in walks (75) and tied for fifth in sacrifice flies (5).
Despite missing 20 games due to injury, Autumn Bishop was an offensive catalyst this season, batting .381 with 15 doubles and 41 runs scored in 50 games played. She finished the season tied for fourth in the Big South in doubles and triples (3), and tied for fifth in runs scored.
Alexia Taylor entered Liberty's all-time top 10 in career hits (t-9th, 182), RBI (9th, 99), doubles (t-8th,35) and sacrifice flies (t-3nd, 6) this season. She posted a 12-game hitting streak late in the season as well. She batted .337 on the season while placing in the top 10 in the Big South in several offensive categories.
Sarah Robertson posted a team-best 13-game hitting streak during March, and became the fifth Liberty player all-time to record her 100th career hit as a sophomore. She finished the season batting .313 with a team-leading 16 doubles and 42 RBI. Her doubles were tied for second in the Big South, while she was fifth in RBI.
Playing in and starting all 70 games at center field, Jasmeen Click made an impact in the field and on the basepaths. She made several highlight-reel catches, including one that made it onto ESPN SportsCenter's Top 10 Plays. Click batted .311 for the season and finished in a tie for fourth in the conference with 22 stolen bases.
Pitching proved to be dominant, as Liberty's 18 shutouts led the Big South and were two shy of a program record. At one point in April, Liberty held opponents scoreless for 44 straight innings, tossing six straight shutouts. Liberty led the Big South in team ERA (2.63), shutouts (18) and strikeouts (351).
DiMartino earned her second straight Big South All-Conference first team selection, also being named the Big South Pitcher of the Year. She led the Big South with a program-record-tying 22 wins, also leading the conference in shutouts and strikeouts. She pitched 48 straight scoreless innings during April.
Redshirt senior Friesen made the most of her last season at Liberty, posting a 15-3 record while finishing second in the Big South to teammate Julia DiMartino with a 2.16 ERA. She was named to the CoSIDA Academic All-District team and the Big South All-Conference second team, in addition to earning Big South Scholar-Athlete of the Year honors.
Fans turned out in record numbers to Liberty Softball Stadium, as three out of the top four single-game attendance totals in stadium history were set this year. Liberty drew a stadium-record 954 fans for its win over Virginia, April 11. The Lady Flames posted a 22-8 record at home this year, setting a new program record for home wins.
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