Julia DiMartino was named Big South Preseason Pitcher of the Year, while Amber Bishop was named Big South Preseason Player of the Year.
Liberty sophomore Amber Bishop has been named Big South Preseason Softball Player of the Year, while Lady Flames junior Julia DiMartino was voted Big South Preseason Pitcher of the Year. Additionally, the Liberty softball team has been predicted to finish second in the Big South standings, through a preseason poll voted on by the conference's head coaches.
Defending Big South regular-season champion and NISC champion Liberty received 56 points in the poll, garnering one first-place vote for the third year in a row. The Lady Flames tied their highest preseason standing, as Liberty was previously picked second in the preseason coaches' poll in 2000, 2001, 2011, 2012 and 2017.
This is the first time in program history that Liberty has had both Big South Preseason Pitcher of the Year and Preseason Player of the Year in the same season. Bishop is the second Lady Flame all-time to receiver Preseason Player of the Year honors, joining Jessica Moore (2006, 2007). DiMartino becomes the second player in program history to be named Big South Preseason Pitcher of the Year, joining Tiffani Smith (2011).
Bishop had a dominant freshman campaign in 2017, setting nine program freshman records and two overall single-season program records. She led the Big South in hits (85), runs scored (55), RBI (66) and total bases (141), on the way to earning Big South Freshman of the Year and VaSID State Rookie of the Year honors. An NFCA All-Mid-Atlantic Region third team selection, she was one of 25 finalists for NFCA National Freshman of the Year.
DiMartino the reigning Big South Pitcher of the Year, was also named to the NFCA All-Region second team and VaSID All-State first team. A two-time first team all-conference player, she led the Big South with a program-record-tying 22 wins, also leading the conference in shutouts (7), ERA (1.91) and strikeouts (175). She pitched 48 straight scoreless innings, a stretch that included five straight complete-game shutouts. In conference play, she led the Big South with 11 wins, 74 strikeouts and four shutouts.
The Lady Flames are coming off of a historic 2017 season where they went 46-24, capturing the team's first postseason championship, the National Invitational Softball Championship. Liberty set or tied 22 program single-season records last year, including wins, home wins and conference victories. The team earned its fourth Big South regular-season championship, finishing 16-5 in conference play.
Fifth-year Head Coach Dot Richardson returns a vast majority of the starters from last year's lineup. Liberty returns seven all-conference players from 2017, including four first-team selections. Also, all four of Liberty's All-Freshman team players are back from last season. Autumn Bishop (first team), DiMartino (second team), Tori Zavodny (second team) and Amber Bishop (third team) were all named to the 2017 NFCA All-Mid-Atlantic Region team.
This year's preseason poll is very similar to last year's, as the top five choices are in the exact same order from 2017 to 2018.
Two-time defending Big South tournament champion Longwood was voted to win the title, receiving 60 points and five first-place votes. After Liberty (56 points, one first place vote), third-place Campbell (43) and fourth-place Charleston Southern (41) received one first-place mention apiece.
Radford appears fifth with 31 points, followed in sixth by Winthrop (26). Presbyterian was voted seventh with 16 points, while Gardner-Webb is eighth at 15.
The Lady Flames begin their 2018 campaign with a trip to Clermont, Fla., Feb. 9-11. Liberty will compete in the Dot Richardson Invitational, facing Toledo, Fairleigh Dickinson, Detroit Mercy and Morgan State.
The 2018 Big South Softball Championship will be hosted by Radford, from May 9-12 at Radford Softball Stadium in Radford, Va. The Big South champion will earn the conference's automatic bid to the 2018 NCAA Division I Softball Championship, which will begin the weekend of May 18.
2018 Big South Softball Preseason Poll Team (First-place votes) - Points 1. Longwood (5) - 60 2. Liberty (1) - 56 3. Campbell (1) - 43 4. Charleston Southern (1) - 41 5. Radford - 31 6. Winthrop - 26 7. Presbyterian - 16 8. Gardner-Webb - 15
2018 Preseason Player of the Year: Amber Bishop, Liberty 2018 Preseason Pitcher of the Year: Julia DiMartino, Liberty