Liberty Softball Comes From Behind To Defeat No. 18 Virginia Tech In Extra Innings
Going, going, gone. Caroline Hudson blasted her second home run of the night in the bottom of the ninth, as the Liberty softball team defeated the No. 18 Virginia Tech Hokies 5-3 in a walk off for the team’s 15th consecutive win.
The game started slowly for the Lady Flames, but they found their rhythm late to get their second victory over a ranked opponent this year.
Pitcher Karlie Keeney was thrilled with Hudson’s performance after the game. Hudson finished with five RBIs and two home runs.
“It was awesome,” Keeney said. “There was a lot of excitement. She came up really big for us tonight.”
In the first inning, Tech took no time getting runners into scoring position, with runners on both second and third and only one out, before a strikeout by Emily Kirby added the second. With Tech still threatening, Kelsey Bennet smacked the ball to right field. A quick snag and throw to first by Madison Via, however, kept Tech off the board.
Coach Dot Richardson was ecstatic that the team left the first inning without allowing a run.
“It definitely was uplifting because we had been working very hard with two outs, runners on second and third, a shot to right field to throw her out at first base,” Richardson said. “I was so pleased with Madison Via making that play and Autumn Bishop at first base receiving that well. That actually won the game for us.”
After the close call in the first, frustration began to mount for the Lady Flames.
When the Lady Flames failed to produce on offense, the Hokies began the second with a fury. Liberty pitcher Emily Kirby walked Emma Ritter before giving up a home run to Mackenzie Lawter. The Lady Flames just could not keep up.
Alexa Milius smacked another home run for Tech, prompting Richardson to substitute in Keeney for Kirby. The inning ended after that with a strikeout and a pop fly.
Once again, the Lady Flames could not respond on offense, with all three batters failing to get on base in the third.
The fourth inning seemed promising for the Lady Flames as they managed to load the bases with zero outs. The following two batters struck out with the third lining out to the pitcher, stranding three runners on base and squandering a perfect opportunity for runs.
The scoreboard remained unaltered through the fifth, sixth and top of the seventh inning. Each team only produced one hit through the 2.5 innings, and one Tech player walked.
The bottom of the seventh seemed like an exercise in futility for the Flames, who had only registered four hits up to that point and zero runs. But after Naomi Jones was hit by a pitch and Madison Via hit a single, the team energy began to pick up.
Next up to bat was Hudson, who entered the game with a .192 batting average. She promptly sent the ball flying over the fence, stupefying the crowd and providing the team with the equalizer to set the score 3-3.
The Tech defense rallied two straight outs to send the game to extra innings.
The Hokies regained their offensive power in the eighth, once again positioning runners on second and third. Jayme Bailey attempted to send speedy Kelsey Brown home from second. Only a calculated decision by third baseman Devyn Howard to throw the ball to Hudson for the tag out kept the Lady Flames from trailing, keeping Richardson optimistic.
“They’re in a yes offense, which means they had a runner on second and third,” Richardson said. “Anything that was hit, she took off. Sometimes you can get away with it if you don’t have a smart defensive player. But I think Devyn Howard did a great job getting the ball, seeing that she was there. She tried to get us by surprise and kudos to Devyn Howard in making the play.”
With neither team scoring in the eighth, one more inning would be necessary to determine a victor. After the Hokies’ batters went three up, three down, the Lady Flames returned to bat for the last time of the game. Hudson’s second home run of the night left Liberty fans in awe as she walked around the bases to cement the Lady Flames’ victory.
Hudson said after the game that although she has often struggled on offense this season, she was proud of her performance in the game.
“I’ve been a little low this year, but we’ve been working hard,” Hudson said. “I’ve been working hard every day … and just trusting the timing, trusting the process and all the work we put in. Everyone’s been telling me, ‘It’s going to happen, it’s going to happen.’ It’s hard to believe when it’s not, but I’m so glad I was able to come through this game.”
Richardson praised Hudson’s performance.
“We were really excited to win the game, but the overriding emotion was to see (Hudson) break out, not only with a three-run home run in the bottom of the seventh but get the opportunity to come up again and get a second home run,” Richardson said. “It was freaking out all of us because we were so excited, and it was a big win against a great team, but just for (Hudson) to do that ignited us in such a huge way.”
Richardson also attributed the victory to Keeney, who kept the Hokies scoreless once she took over the pitching mound, holding them to only three hits.
“The nice thing about Karlie Keeney is that she can come in to relieve because she’s stone-cold,” Richardson said. “She’s a competitor and she’s laser-focused…. She got a couple of really good strikeouts. I don’t think she’s thrown any better this season, and now’s the time to rise and we’re seeing her rise.”
The Lady Flames next played the Kennesaw State Owls in Georgia. Liberty swept the series, winning doubleheaders on Saturday 5-0 and 1-0, and then winning on Sunday 3-1 to complete the weekend sweep.
Christian Shields is the Assistant Sports Editor. Follow him on Facebook at @Cpshields.