Softball Relies On Strong Bullpen Performance To Rally Past Virginia

In a game full of defensive errors, Liberty softball managed to edge out a win against UVA April 21, due in part to a strong bullpen and an excellent batting performance by third baseman Devyn Howard.

Wednesday’s game did not feel as clean as previous outings for the Lady Flames, with the team allowing three errors through the first three innings. For a team that prides itself on defensive prowess, these errors came as a surprise. Coach Dot Richardson said she was disappointed in the early game mistakes.

“I was disappointed because that is a sign of complacency or lack of focus,” Richardson said. “We’re much better than that. But it’s also a teaching moment. I went into the huddle afterwards and said, ‘I’m not going to see it again. You’re not going to do it again. You guys have to pick it up.’ Our team is much better than that … We cannot just think we are going to show up and win. Everything is a battle.”

Despite the rough start, Lady Flames pitcher Karlie Keeney’s performance limited the Cavaliers to only one run through those three innings. 

After the third inning, the team fixed its mistakes and held the Cavaliers to no hits for the next three innings. Ten Virginia batters tested the Lady Flames through the fourth, fifth and sixth innings without success, managing just a solitary walk alongside the nine outs. 

Richardson was glad the team rebounded after the tough defensive start. 

“(The players are) in control,” Richardson said. “We can control our attitude. We can control our effort. You can control when you’re getting instruction from coaches if it’s going to tick you off or fire you up. We make choices and I’m so glad they made that choice. We’re family. We don’t want anyone to fail.”

With the score tied 1-1 in the bottom of the fourth inning, Howard stepped to the plate. Her teammates Savannah Channell and Emily Sweat waited on second and third base for the opportunity to run home. Howard provided that opportunity by blasting a ball to left field, earning Howard her first triple of the season and allowing her teammates to score the runs to seal Liberty’s win.

“I knew I had to do something,” Howard said. “We needed a little more insurance to make sure we had the game. To be honest with you, I didn’t think I was going to get a triple because I don’t think I’m that fast. So, I saw Dot (Richardson) waving me on to third and I thought, ‘No way.’ I just kept going and there I was. I’m glad she did because I wouldn’t have taken that chance.”

After the triple, the scoring dried up. While the Lady Flames had opportunities for runs in the fifth, they did not capitalize on them and stranded three runners on base. Both teams struggled as the game continued, with Virginia leaving eight batters and Liberty leaving six.

“We’ve been leaving a lot of runners in scoring position,” Richardson said. “That’s not good, but I believe the tide will turn. We’ll be getting (runners) in.”

Entering the seventh, Liberty still held the two-run lead. Virginia, however, refused to go down without a fight.

UVA’s Mikaila Fox batted to start the inning, and after surviving 12 pitches from Keeney, she advanced on a walk. Bailey Winscott followed with a single. Richardson then pulled Keeney from the game and sent Emily Kirby to the pitching mound. 

A few bawtters later, a ground ball to first base by Ashley Jennings with the bases loaded propelled Tori Gilbert to home plate, pulling UVA to only one run behind Liberty. With runners on every base and one out to go, the outcome of the game rested on Kirby’s shoulders. Unfazed by the pressure, Kirby struck out Kate Covington and sealed the victory for the Flames. 

Richardson praised Kirby’s pitching to end the seventh.

“I thought it was a great opportunity for Kirby to come in, (with) pressure on her, with no outs, with runners on first and second to make it happen,” Richardson said. “I thought it was huge for her.” 

Richardson also applauded the effort of Keeney’s performance through six innings to keep the game close even when the defense was not up to par.

“Karlie was in control,” Richardson said. “That shows how competitive she is. There were a lot of opportunities. She came through when there were runners in scoring position. Those were not because of her but because on defense behind we didn’t get the job done.”

Howard also recognized Keeney’s crucial pitching performance.

“I had a lot of faith in Karlie,” Howard said. “We should have had her back a little more. We were just a little out of it. I’m really proud of how she did today. I’m glad we were able to have her back on the offensive side.”

The Lady Flames next swept the Bellarmine Knights April 25-26 in Lynchburg, winning 8-0, 10-0 and 2-1. 

Christian Shields is a Sports Reporter. View his Facebook profile here.

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