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Softball Team Heads West to Begin 2009 Season

February 5, 2009  Lynchburg, Va.  RSS
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J'nae Jefferson and the Lady Flames will open the 2009 season this weekend at the Cathedral City Kick Off.

J'nae Jefferson and the Lady Flames will open the 2009 season this weekend at the Cathedral City Kick Off.

Coming off a runner-up finish in the 2008 Big South Championship, the Liberty softball team kicks off the 2009 campaign this weekend with a road trip to Palm Springs, Calif. Liberty is one of 14 teams participating in the Cathedral City Kick Off, hosted by Big League Dreams.

The Lady Flames, who finished last year with a record of 20-40-1, marched to the Big South Championship title game before falling to Winthrop.

Liberty will face solid competition in Palm Springs, where they will take on three teams ranked in the Top 25 in preseason polls, two of which are past national champions.

Scouting the Cathedral City Kick Off Field

Cal State Northridge
Liberty opens the 2009 season against Cal State Northridge on Friday at 1:30 p.m. (Eastern Standard Time). The Matadors finished 2008 with an overall record of 23-24, and ranked third in the Big West rankings with a 12-9 finish.

Cal State Northridge returns 12 letterwinners. The team's top returners are Alexandria Alvarado, Micah Putman and Jaclyn Rymer. Alvarado tallied a .289 batting average with 12 doubles and 23 runs scored. Putman, a senior, was close behind with a .279 batting average and four home runs. Rymer scored 20 runs and had 10 stolen bases in 2008.

The Lady Flames are 0-1 against the Matadors, losing a 4-0 decision in 1999, during Liberty's last trip to California when the Lady Flames participate in the Kia Klassic.

California
Liberty will square off against the Golden Bears of California Friday at 4 p.m. The Golden Bears finished the 2008 season ranked No. 14 in the final USA Softball/ESPN.com Top 25 collegiate poll, a ranking they maintained during the preseason release of this year's poll.

California advanced to the NCAA postseason for the 23rd time in 2008, and reached 40-plus victories for the ninth time since 1999 (43-27).

The Golden Bears return 10 letterwinners and will be paced by Valerie Arioto and Marissa Drewrey. Arioto led the 2008 team in batting average (.324), hits (71) and doubles (17). Drewrey won 29 games in the circle and tallied more than 300 strikeouts.

Liberty is 0-2 against California, and last met the Golden Bears twice in 2007. The Lady Flames dropped a narrow 1-0 decision to the Golden Bears at the Bank of Hawaii Invitational in Honolulu, Hawaii on March 15. One week later back on the mainland, No. 25 California outslugged Liberty, 18-6, at the Women4Women Invitational, hosted by Louisville.

Fresno State
The Lady Flames will open up their action on Saturday against Fresno State at 6 p.m. The Bulldogs begin 2009 after posting a 54-13 record last year and finishing second in the Western Athletic Conference.

Fresno State, ranked No. 12 in the USA Softball/ESPN.com Top 25 preseason poll, returns 12 letterwinners, six of whom are starters.

The Bulldogs will look for offensive success from senior Haley Perkins, who ended 2008 with a .374 batting average, and sophomore Haley Gilleland, who tallied 78 hits and a .474 slugging percentage. Sophomore pitcher Morgan Melloh posted a record of 42-9 with a 1.28 ERA. Over 59 appearances and 360.1 innings pitched, Melloh hurled 454 strikeouts.

This will be the first matchup between Liberty and the 1998 national champion Bulldogs.

UC Riverside
The Lady Flames will take on UC Riverside Saturday at 11 p.m. Eastern. The Highlanders are coming off of a 19-37 season, finishing eighth in the Big West.

UC Riverside returns 14 letterwinners and adds seven newcomers to the 2009 roster. Junior utility player Marissa Alvidrez paced the conference in batting average (.424) and slugging percentage (.722), and pitched 116.1 innings for the Highlanders in 2008.

This will be the first meeting between Liberty and UC Riverside.

Long Beach State
Liberty will wrap up the tournament with a matchup against the 49ers of Long Beach State Sunday at 2 p.m. Eastern. The 2008 Big West champions are ranked No. 20 in the USA Softball/ESPN.com Top 25 preseason poll.

The 49ers were led offensively by Jennifer Griffin in 2008. The senior finished the season with a .336 batting average, 47 hits and 22 RBIs.

Sophomore Brooke Turner led Long Beach State in the circle last season with a record of 27-6. In 34 appearances, Turner posted an ERA of 0.80, threw 17 shutouts and tallied 237 strikeouts.
This will be the first meeting between the Lady Flames and the 49ers.