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Liberty Softball: 2010 Season in Review

May 26, 2010  Lynchburg, Va.  RSS
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The 2010 Lady Flames finished the season with a 39-18 overall record.

The 2010 Lady Flames finished the season with a 39-18 overall record.

2010 proved to be a historic season for the Liberty Softball team, as the Lady Flames accomplished several feats that rank among the best in program history. After establishing the longest winning streak in school history at 12 games, the Lady Flames went on to finish the season with 39 wins, which is the third-most wins ever recorded by the softball program.

Liberty also performed well in Big South Conference play, posting a 13-5 record against conference opponents, which is the most league wins in a single season in program history. In addition, the team went a perfect 10-0 in conference play at Liberty Softball Field for the only the second time in school history.

Several athletes also picked up individual honors. Tiffani Smith was named the Big South Pitcher of the Year, becoming the first Lady Flame in history to pick up the honor. Kat Johnson was named the Big South co-Freshman of the Year, becoming the third Liberty player to win the award.

After finishing the regular season in second place, the No. 2-seeded Lady Flames advanced to Championship Day of the Big South Championship for the third consecutive season before being eliminated by No. 3 seed Winthrop in the consolation finals.

"It was a great season for the Lady Flames," commented head coach Paul Wetmore, who just wrapped his 17thseason at the helm of the team. "Having 39 wins in 57 games, that would be like having 44 wins in our longer, previous seasons."

Liberty returned eight starters to the team, including lone senior J'nae Jefferson and 2009 all-conference members Kelly Strickland and Smith, while welcoming five newcomers to the squad.

Similar to years past, the Lady Flames faced some tough competition early in the season, but with better results. This time around, Liberty won nine of its first 11 games, compared to three victories during the first 11 contests in 2009.

After a season-opening loss to St. John's on Feb. 14 in Charlotte, N.C., the Lady Flames went 3-1 in the USC Upstate Campus Suites Spartan Classic in Spartanburg, S.C., Feb. 19-21. Liberty defeated Eastern Kentucky twice, and beat the host Spartans, 12-2, in five innings. The Lady Flames dropped a 5-0 contest to tournament winner UMBC.

To kick off their 2010 Spring Break road trip, the Lady Flames posted a 4-1 record at the Georgia Tech Buzz Classic in Woodstock, Ga., March 5-7. After recording wins over Dartmouth, Kennesaw State, Akron and Rhode Island, Liberty fell to No.23 Kentucky, 8-0.

Shortstop Strickland was named the Big South Choice Hotels Player of the Week, going 5-for-7 with six RBIs and three home runs on the first day of the Buzz Classic.

Next came a scheduled doubleheader in Tuscaloosa, Ala., to take on No. 10 Alabama. After a huge five-run second inning, the Lady Flames held a 7-1 lead over the 2009 third-ranked team in the nation. But the Crimson Tide overtook the lead, 8-7, in the bottom of the second, before scoring three more runs in the bottom of the fifth to claim a 10-7 victory. Game 2 of the doubleheader was called due to heavy rain.

"To have the opportunity to play at Alabama, where the NCAA Super Regionals are held each year, was outstanding," Wetmore said. "It was even better to have hit three home runs off them in the first two innings and have a 7-1 lead."

From there, the Lady Flames headed to Cookeville, Tenn., taking a 6-2 single-game victory over Tennessee Tech, before continuing on to Knoxville, Tenn. to compete in the Tennessee Spring Classic. Liberty faced the Golden Eagles of Tennessee Tech again, picking up another win, 4-1. After a 10-4 loss to Campbell, the Lady Flames picked up their third straight win over the Golden Eagles, 6-2. Liberty then concluded the tournament with a 10-0 loss to No. 19 Tennessee.

The Lady Flames then traveled to Johnson City, Tenn. to face the Bucs of East Tennessee State in a doubleheader. Liberty swept the tilt, 6-3 and 6-4, to wrap up the spring break trip and head into conference play with a 12-6 overall record.

Liberty then kicked off 2010 Big South Conference play with a doubleheader in Radford, Va., against the 2009 Big South Champion Highlanders. Radford posted a sweep, picking up 8-2 and 7-6 victories.

The Lady Flames avenged the losses two games later. After a 12-3 win over N.C. A&T in Greensboro, N.C., Liberty trounced the visiting Highlanders, 9-1 in five innings, at Liberty Softball Field.

Against the Aggies of N.C. A&T, the Lady Flames recorded a season-high 16 hits and tied a season-high 12 RBIs.

After splitting a doubleheader against Virginia in Charlottesville, Va. on March 24, the Lady Flames swept a three-game series against Big South opponent Winthrop to improve to 4-0 at home on the year.

Smith earned two consecutive Big South Pitcher of the Week Honors, on March 29 and April 5, after picking up wins over Radford and Virginia, and recording two wins in the circle against Winthrop.

On April 7, Liberty hosted UNC Greensboro in a non-conference doubleheader, falling in the first game, 11-10 in nine innings, and winning the second game, 10-2.

Liberty then traveled to Charleston, S.C., where the Lady Flames won two out of three conference games against Charleston Southern, improving to 21-11 overall and 6-3 in Big South play.

That's when the historic 12–game winning streak began, as the Lady Flames swept a doubleheader against James Madison, a three-game series against Gardner-Webb, and doubleheaders against George Washington, Norfolk State and Hampton over an eight-day span. The Lancers from Longwood snapped the streak on April 24, defeating the Lady Flames, 7-6 in Game 1 of a doubleheader, and Liberty claimed Game 2, 6-3.

In its last non-conference doubleheader of the season, Liberty fell to Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Va., 11-4 and 1-0, on April 28.

In the final road trip of the season, Liberty won one of three games against Presbyterian in Clinton, S.C., before returning home to sweep Coastal Carolina to end the regular season.

Jefferson was named the Big South Choice Hotels Player of the Week for the second time of the season, batting 3-for-4 with four RBI, a double and a home run on Senior Day, her last appearance at Liberty Softball Field. In addition, freshman Kat Johnson picked up The Crons Brand Pitcher of the Week for the final week of regular-season play, going 3-0 with a 0.93 ERA during the Chanticleers.

As the No. 2 seed going into the 2010 Big South Softball Championship, the Lady Flames had a first-round matchup against the No. 7 seed Presbyterian, where they came out on top, 2-0. In the next round, Liberty lost a nine-inning thriller to No. 3 seed Winthrop, 4-3. After defeating Coastal Carolina, 5-3, the Lady Flames dropped a 4-0 decision to the Eagles in the finals of the consolation bracket, eliminating them from the tournament and ending their season. The second loss to Winthrop at the championship concluded Liberty's season at 39-18.

No. 1 seed Radford went on to win the Big South Championship, defeating Winthrop in the finals.

Offensively, the 2010 squad made vast improvements over the previous season, thanks in part to the addition of hitting coach Jessica Moore, a former Liberty standout. This year's team scored a total of 300 runs, compared to 172 total runs scored in 2009. Also, Strickland led all Big South players with 56 RBIs, while Cassie Hendrix led the team with a .375 overall batting average, the highest of her career.

"Our hitters did a great job all year," Wetmore said. "They worked very hard, and it paid off. To have five players bat over .300 was amazing, and it will only get better."

Six Lady Flames received all-conference honors at the end of the regular season.

"I am really proud of how Kat Johnson adjusted to the Division I level in her first season," commented Wetmore. "The future looks very bright for her. Also, Tiffani Smith had a super season with 20 wins and a huge amount of strikeouts."

Receiving first team all-conference honors were Jefferson and Smith, while Meredith Baisden, Hendrix, Johnson and Danielle Howard were named to the all-conference second team. In addition, Jefferson was named to the Big South All-Academic Team.

Jefferson and Hendrix were also members of the 2010 Big South Softball Championship All-Tournament team.

Jefferson concluded her successful career with her name in the record books in five different statistical categories. She ranks third for career games played (240), second with 240 games started, ties for third with 113 career hits, ranks third with 705 at-bats and fifth with 62 career walks. Jefferson also tied with Baisden for the longest season hitting streak this year (12 games).

Smith, who will be a senior in 2011, is also already among the career bests at Liberty. After leading the Big South this season with 211 strikeouts, she now has amassed 478 career strikeouts, ranking second behind Sarah Swor, who recorded 489 K's from 2004 to 2007. Smith is also tied for third in Liberty history with seven career saves. Also, she was named to the all-region team, becoming the fifth player in program history named to that list.

The Lady Flames also welcomed two honorary team members this year, officially adopting sisters Kayla and April Jace in an on-field ceremony on April 3. Kayla and April were matched up with the Lady Flames through the Friends of Jaclyn organization, which is a program that improves the quality of life for children with pediatric brain tumors and their families.

Overall, the 2010 season was a successful campaign for Liberty, and the Lady Flames will move into next season with a wealth of experienced upperclassmen.

 "Our rising senior class has had a lot of experience over the past three seasons against some great programs like Tennessee, Alabama, Florida State, Kentucky and Texas A&M," Wetmore said. "This has prepared us well to get to the next level. We have six quality players coming in who are expected to give us the depth we need, and they will also compete very well for starting roles.

"We are looking forward to next season, and the future looks very bright."