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Liberty Heads to Columbia to Begin NCAA Regional Play, Friday against No. 24/24 Hofstra

May 16, 2018  Lynchburg, Va.   RSS
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Big South regular-season and tournament champion Liberty (47-12) makes its third appearance in the NCAA Division I Softball Championship, competing in the Columbia Regional, Thursday through Saturday. Liberty will open Regional play on Friday at 5 p.m. against CAA champion No. 24/24 Hofstra (40-12), with the winner facing the winner of No. 11/10 South Carolina (45-14) vs. SoCon champion UNCG (46-11), Saturday at 1 p.m. The winner of the Columbia Regional will face the winner of the Tempe Regional in the Super Regional round next weekend.

The excitement is rising surrounding the Liberty softball team and its journey to the 2018 NCAA Division I Softball Championship.

Prior to yesterday's practice, several members of the local media interviewed Liberty's coaching staff and select players, getting a feel for the team's enthusiasm entering the postseason.

LibertyFlames.com and Liberty's social media outlets will be posting interviews throughout the week, getting fans ready for this week's Columbia Regional. Today's video features interviews with Head Coach Dot Richardson, seniors Tori Zavodny and Alexia Taylor, sophomore Amber Bishop and freshman Madison Via.

How to Follow to Lady Flames
All of this week's games from the NCAA Columbia Regional will air live on ESPN3.com, with Brad Muller serving as play-by-play announcer and Dr. Megan Buning providing analysis. All of Liberty's games will air on radio on 90.9 FM The Light, with Kevin Keys calling play-by-play. Follow @LibertySB on twitter for updates throughout the week. Also, StatBroadcast live stats will be provided for all games.

Liberty is receiving votes in a national poll for the first time since 1997, garnering seven votes in the latest USA Today/NFCA Division I Top 25 Coaches Poll.

This is the toughest of the 16 regionals in the NCAA Division I Softball Championship, with the best combined RPI (113) and most combined wins for the four teams (178). The Seattle Regional is next in RPI, with a combined RPI of 132, while the teams at the Tallahassee Regional have the second most combined wins, 159.

Liberty is making its second straight appearance in the postseason, having won the 2017 Postseason National Invitational Softball Championship (NISC). The Lady Flames are looking for their first win in an NCAA Regional game, going 0-2 at both the 2002 Columbia Regional and 2011 Knoxville Regional. Liberty returns to the site of its first-ever postseason appearance in 2002.

The Lady Flames went 3-0 at the 2018 Big South Softball Championship, downing host Radford in the final, 5-1, on Saturday. Liberty posted come-from-behind wins over Gardner-Webb (8-2) and Radford (4-2) in the first two rounds. Autumn Bishop was named Big South Tournament MVP, and was joined on the all-tournament team by Alexia Taylor, Taylor Hoffman and Julia DiMartino.

Liberty brings a program-record 17-game winning streak into the postseason, the second longest active winning streak in NCAA Division I softball. The Lady Flames are also tied with Florida State and Oregon for the third-most wins of any Division I softball teams at present.

Led by two-time Big South Coach of the Year Dot Richardson, the Lady Flames bat .305 as a team. The Lady Flames lead the Big South with a 2.07 team ERA and 18 shutouts. During their current 17-game winning streak, the Lady Flames have outscored opponents, 90-16.

Junior Julia DiMartino, two-time Big South Pitcher of the Year, is 27-7 with a 1.79 ERA, setting new program single-season records in wins (27), shutouts (9) and saves (6). Elizabeth Engler is 8-2 with a 1.81 ERA, while Chase Cassady holds a 10-2 record with a 2.26 ERA. Both Cassady (5) and Engler (2) have tossed multiple shutouts, while Emily Kirby has pitched one shutout. This is the first time since 1996 that four different Lady Flames have tossed a shutout in the same season.

Amber Bishop sports a .378 batting average, with a team-leading 11 homers and 42 RBI. Her twin sister, Autumn Bishop, bats .369 and is tied for the national lead in doubles (25) and sacrifice flies (7), both single-season program records. Tori Zavodny (.345) missed 24 games with a knee injury before coming back on May 1. Jaclyn Amader (.316) ranks sixth in the nation with seven triples, while Sarah Robertson (.316) is third on the team in doubles (16) and RBI (36).

Team Notes
- Liberty's 47 wins are tied for the fourth most in NCAA Division I Softball this year, trailing UCLA (50-4), Florida (50-8) and Oklahoma (50-3). Liberty is tied with Florida State (47-10) and Oregon (47-7).

- Liberty's record has improved each season under Coach Richardson (11-46 in 2014, 29-30 in 2015, 31-28 in 2016, 46-24 in 2017, program-record 47-12 in 2018).

- Liberty's program-record 17-game winning streak is the second longest active streak in NCAA Division I softball, trailing only Saint Francis (Pa.)'s 19. MAAC champion Monmouth (13) has the third-longest active winning streak entering postseason play. The Lady Flames have tossed eight shutouts in the last 17 games, including three each by Julia DiMartino and Chase Cassady, a combined shutout by DiMartino and Cassady and Emily Kirby's first career shutout.

- Liberty set a new program record for single-season home victories, going 23-3 at Liberty Softball Stadium this season.

- Current Lady Flames Alexia Taylor (2015) and Amber Bishop (2017) are both past winners of Big South Softball Freshman of the Year honors.

- Liberty has allowed two runs or fewer in each of the last 14 games, beginning April 20.

- With its 3-2 win at Longwood on April 6, Liberty became the 13th NCAA Division I team, and first from a non-Power Five conference, to reach 30 wins (30-8).

- The Lady Flames have clinched their fourth 40-win season, and second in a row.

- Nine different Lady Flames have a three-hit game this year, led by Amber Bishop's six three-hit games. Tori Zavodny, Taylor Hoffman and Autumn Bishop all have three three-hit games this season. Deidra See's 4-for-4 game at PC, March 24 was Liberty's first four-hit game of 2018.

- The Lady Flames have posted 18 shutouts so far this season, chasing the program record of 20, set in 1999. Liberty blanked its first three opponents of the season for the first time since 1995.

- In their last 19 games, the Lady Flames have posted a 0.82 ERA, eight shutouts and a .199 opponents' batting average. In that span, Julia DiMartino is 9-1 with a 0.68 ERA, three saves and 68 strikeouts, while Chase Cassady is 5-0 with a 1.02 ERA and a .169 OBA.

- Liberty is now 10-4 in one-run games during the 2018 season after going 6-8 in such games last year.  That includes two walk-off wins (Feb. 22 vs. North Carolina; March 17 vs. Campbell).

- Liberty has twice won games when trailing entering the seventh inning, and did it in back-to-back games, against Central Michigan (Feb. 16) and versus North Carolina (Feb. 22), both in nine innings. The Lady Flames are 2-2 in extra-inning games this year.

- Current Lady Flames Cassie Gingerich (4/18/15 vs. Coastal Carolina), Deidra See (4/23/16 vs. CSU), Emily Sweat (3/25/17 vs. Radford), Jasmeen Click (4/26/17 vs. Longwood) and Jaclyn Amader (2/16/18 vs. Central Michigan) all have recorded a game-winning walk-off hit in their career.

- Autumn Bishop's grand slam, April 17 against Virginia Tech was the first grand slam hit by a Lady Flame in Liberty Softball Stadium history.   

- Liberty won its first 10 Big South games this season, setting a new program record with a 10-game conference winning streak.

- Liberty has set or tied five program individual single-season records so far this year: sacrifice flies (Autumn Bishop - 7), saves (Julia DiMartino - 6), doubles (Autumn Bishop - 25), wins (DiMartino - 27) and shutouts (DiMartino - 9).

- In addition to their program-record overall, conference and home winning streaks, Liberty has set team program record for doubles (101), stolen bases (96 -tied) and sacrifice flies (21) this season.

- Liberty's fielding percentage has improved by 21 points over last season, from .957 to a Big South-leading .978. The program record is .965, set in 2010 and 2012.

- The Lady Flames went 6-1 against ACC opponents this season, with two wins against North Carolina and Virginia, a win over NC State and a 1-1 record versus Virginia Tech.

- Liberty posted an 0-5 record against nationally-ranked opponents this year, falling twice at home to then No. 12/12 Baylor while also losing to No. 3/4 UCLA, No. 17/15 Arizona State and No. 20/21 South Carolina. Liberty led UCLA, 3-2, with two outs in the bottom of the fifth, Feb. 23 at the Mary Nutter Classic, before the Bruins hit a two-run homer to down the Lady Flames, 4-3.

- Liberty is 6-58 all-time against nationally-ranked teams. In 2007, Liberty knocked off No. 23 Hawai'i, No. 10 Baylor and No. 6 Michigan. The Lady Flames' 2-0 win over No. 6 Michigan, March 24, 2007, marks the highest-ranked team that Liberty has beaten in softball and the team's most recent victory over a nationally-ranked team.

- Two current Liberty players (Alexia Taylor - March 5, 2015 and Madison Via - March 2, 2018) both hit their first career home run at the same place - Carolina Softball Stadium at Beckham Field.

-  Liberty earned its fifth-ever Big South regular-season softball title, second in a row and third outright, winning a program-record 18 conference games.

- Liberty's 96 stolen bases this season are more than the other three teams in the Columbia Regional combined (81).