Shannon McKain is one of several key returnees looking to lead the Lady Flames during the 2008 season, beginning with this weekend's College of Charleston Cougar Classic.
Fresh off their second-straight 30-win season, the Lady Flames softball team kicks off its 2008 schedule this weekend, as Liberty is one of six teams participating in the College of Charleston Cougar Classic. The three-day event is hosted by the College of Charleston at the newly completed Patriots Points Softball Complex. The remainder of the field includes Kennesaw State, N.C. State, Tennessee Tech and Towson. Last year, Liberty continued its assault on the Lady Flames' record books, as Liberty set new program standards in home runs (73), hits (479), total bases (793), saves (9) and strikeouts (352). At year's end, the Lady Flames had posted a 36-26 record, with wins over three nationally ranked opponents, including No. 6 and 2005 NCAA national champion Michigan and No. 10 and College World Series participant Baylor. Liberty controlled the pace of play in the Big South Conference, finishing the year with an 11-4 league record, which was good enough for a share of the regular-season crown. The 2008 Lady Flames are led by a pair of Big South all-conference performers in seniors Shannon McKain and Ashley Williams from the plate and junior hurler Sarah Ellis from inside the pitcher's circle. Williams, a three-time second-team all-league honoree, posted her third-straight season with a batting average better than .300 with a career-high .351 mark in 2007. The designated hitter also tallied school season top 10 marks in at bats (203/fourth), hits (72/eighth), doubles (14/eighth) and home runs (13/seventh). McKain, Liberty's returning left fielder, posted a banner year, as the California native batted .320 with 24 runs scored, 11 doubles, five home runs and 20 runs driven in. She also finished fourth on the squad with 17 multiple-hit games, while adding four multi-RBI contests. Ellis set a new school record with four saves last year, while bettering her already impressive freshman year numbers. She finished second on the squad with a 12-8 record and 92 strikeouts in 151 innings of work, while posting a 3.15 ERA along the way. The crowning moment of her sophomore season was a 2-0 shutout victory against the nationally ranked Wolverines. An eclectic mix of upperclassmen and newcomers dot Liberty's roster for the 2008 season. Seven letterwinners return for head coach Paul Wetmore, who begins his 15th year with the program seven wins shy of his 400th career victory. Joining the seven returnees are eight newcomers, including seven freshmen and a junior transfer. LibertyFlames.com will kick off its second-straight season of complete Live Stat coverage for each of Liberty's scheduled games during the 2008 campaign, beginning with the Tennessee Tech match-up tomorrow afternoon. Lady Flames fans can access the real time in-game statistics by clicking on the Live Stat link on the softball schedule. Scouting the Cougar Classic Field Tennessee Tech (1-8) Liberty opens the 2008 season against the Golden Eagles of Tennessee Tech on Friday at Noon. The Ohio Valley Conference program has struggled during its first two weekends of action, posting just one win, an 8-2 victory over Middle Tennessee State, in nine tries. Tennessee Tech is paced offensively by seniors Stephanie Fischer and Beth Boden, followed by freshman Lacie Coquerille. Fischer is batting .357 with three doubles and four runs batted in. Boden follows her classmate, as she is batting .345 with a team-best six runs scored and two home runs. Newcomer Coquerille has gotten her collegiate career off to a solid start by hitting .320 in nine-straight starts, to go along with two doubles and four RBIs. Senior hurler Sarah Street has been a tough-luck loser for the Golden Eagles, as she is 0-6 despite posting a 1.85 ERA and four complete games, to go along with 31 strikeouts in 39 innings of work. College of Charleston (2-11) The Lady Flames close out the first day's action against the Cougar Classic host College of Charleston. The Cougars have faced a daunting slate of games in 2008, including three top 10 programs, resulting in a 2-11 start to the year. The College of Charleston has struggled offensively over the first 13 games of the year, batting .182 as a team and recording 16 extra base hits in 308 at bats. Tiffany Harmon leads the Cougars, as she is batting .286 with four runs scored and five RBIs. Katie Nutaitis follows with a .281 mark from the plate, to go along with four runs, a double and a home run. Shannon Howard has recorded both of the College of Charleston's victories, having posted a 2-4 record from the circle this year. The right-hander has tossed two complete games to go along with 19 strikeouts and 24 walks in 26.2 innings of action. Towson (0-0) Liberty won't be the only team opening its 2008 campaign at the Cougar Classic, as the Lady Flames will be joined by Towson in year-opening action, their opponent to begin play on Saturday at 10 a.m.
Last year, the Tigers posted a 25-31 record, and Towson returns three solid veterans from the squad. Nina Navarro leads the set of seasoned Tigers, as the senior batted .295 with a team-leading 29 runs scored and 13 doubles in 2007, to go along with four home runs and a .455 slugging percentage. Navarro is joined by fellow returnees Emily Gould and Kim Lempa. Gould, an All-CAA selection as a freshman, batted .284 during her sophomore campaign with 15 runs scored, eight doubles and 17 walks. A speedy Lempa followed closely behind with 17 runs scored and a team-best 13 stolen bases, to go along with a .250 mark from the plate. Inside the circle, Towson returns first-year standout Shannon Johnston, who led the Tigers with a 13-10 mark as a rookie, fanning 78 batters in 143.2 innings of work to post a 3.02 ERA. She will be joined by junior Claire Rietmann-Grout, who sat out the 2007 season with a back injury. Kennesaw State (8-2) The hottest team coming into the tournament will be Liberty's 8 p.m. foe on Saturday evening, as Kennesaw State has won eight of its first 10 contests to open the 2008 season, including its first seven games of the year. The Lady Flames and the Owls met on the diamond last year, as Liberty posted a 2-2 record at the KSU Classic, hosted by Kennesaw State. Liberty was 1-1 against the Owls during the event, taking the first game 6-2, with Ashley Williams going 2-for-3 with three RBIs and Sarah Ellis fanning four and allowing no earned runs in the complete-game victory. The host Owls took the second game, 3-0, as Liberty could only muster five hits against Brittany Matthews, who fanned 12 batters over nine innings, escaping with a victory following a three-run homer in the second extra frame. The 2008 Kennesaw State squad is paced by freshman Lyndsay McCurry, who is batting an impressive .417 with six runs scored, while swiping 10-out-of-11 stolen base attempts. Junior Jamie KeKaualua follows McCurry, as she is batting .296 with five runs scored and two doubles. Matthews is once again the Owls' ace inside the circle, as the senior leads the squad with a 5-1 record to go along with a 1.15 ERA, helping keep Kennesaw State's team ERA at 1.38. Matthews has struck out 67 batters in 36.2 innings of work, while walking just five. N.C. State (4-6) Liberty will close out its season-opening tournament when the Lady Flames face N.C. State on Sunday at Noon. The Wolfpack are off to a 4-6 start in 2008, picking up their wins over UCF, Central Arkansas and Long Island in a pair of tournaments held in Florida. N.C. State boasts four players with a .300 or better batting average, led by senior Shanna Smith. The shortstop is batting .379 with a team-best 11 runs scored, to go along with three doubles, a triple, two home runs and eight RBIs. Smith is followed by lefty Allison Presnell's .375 batting average, and a pair of .300 batters in senior Blair Harkey and freshman Alyssa Allbritten. The Wolfpacks four wins have been evenly split between hurlers Lindsay Campanta and Mendy McKenzie. Campanta is 2-4 on the year, and the sophomore leads the squad with a 3.46 ERA, striking out 36 batters in 39 innings of work. McKenzie is an even 2-2 from inside the circle, with a 5.60 ERA.
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