Returning to the diamond: Flames softball is back after historic 2023 campaign

Liberty University softball is picking up right where it left off into the 2024 regular season.

After one of their most successful seasons in program history, the Lady Flames have their focus set on even larger goals. Last season, Liberty advanced to the NCAA Los Angeles Regional where it managed to defeat GCU and shock No. 2 UCLA, 2-1. Despite falling to SDSU in the finals, the Lady Flames finished the season at the No. 25 spot in the D1 softball poll. Defeating UCLA as well as other top programs such as Alabama, Central Arkansas and Clemson, Liberty scheduled another mass of powerhouses this season. 

“They need to know what it takes not just for them to be good, but to be great,” Liberty Head Coach Dot Richardson said. “You can’t prove that you’re the best without playing the best.”

Some of the notable teams that the Lady Flames will face include LSU, Oregon, Clemson, Notre Dame, Duke, Virginia Tech and Oklahoma. 

Photo by Chase Reed

“I’m used to it at this point” junior right fielder Rachel Roupe said. “It’s normal for us to compete with the best, (and) I believe that we are there with them.” 

Playing against the best of the best early in the season seemed to benefit Liberty come postseason and is something that Richardson has learned is vital. 

“It’s been awesome being able to play these teams because it does help us come postseason,” junior pitcher Paige Bachman said. “It helps us become a lot more comfortable.” 

And comfortable will the Lady Flames become, competing with a majority of their highest-ranked opponents in the first few weeks of the season.

One of the major stories not just for softball, but for all of Liberty athletics is the switch to Conference USA. Going from the ASUN into their first season in Conference USA, the Lady Flames will face new teams and find new challenges. 

“We’ve played a couple of these teams before,” Bachman said. “It doesn’t matter who we’re playing; we’re going to go hard every game.” 

The Lady Flames were ranked No. 1 in the Conference USA preseason ranking. Excited for what the future holds, Liberty is facing change internally as well.

With key additions of junior transfer pitcher Elena Escobar from North Alabama, redshirt sophomore transfer Tyler Oubre from Louisiana and junior transfer Brooke Roberts from College of Central Florida, among others, Liberty is shaping up nicely. A major issue that a lot of teams face is the cohesiveness when new players join, which Liberty coaches and players have been adamant about resolving. 

“The team was divided,” Roupe said. “But the coaches have done a good job of getting us to bond and connect with them.” 

From painting to bake-offs and just about everything in between, both players and coaches have put the work in to ensure closeness on and off the field. As Richardson noted, “We’re intentional about bringing the team together.”

Photo by Chase Reed

Benefitting Liberty is the number of returners it managed to keep around.  The gem of its team, however, is the outfield. 

“With Roupe in right, KK (Madrey) in left and MC (Mary Claire Wilson) in center, I’d put up our outfield with any outfield in the country,” Richardson said. 

Dominance in the grass will go a long way, both offensively and defensively. Roupe was awarded with the Conference USA Preseason Player of the Year award, predicted to be the conference’s best player in the regular season. 

“Don’t get me wrong, it’s an honor,” Roupe said. “But I try to push that aside and focus on what our team has to do.” 

Roupe batted .317 with 15 home runs and 50 RBIs over the course of 61 games played. Looking to continue the success in her third season with Liberty, “I want her to play with freedom,” Richardson said. “She’s a perfectionist but is learning that it’s the pursuit of perfection that’s perfect, and that takes the burden off of her.”

On the other side of the ball, Bachman is predicted to be Liberty’s top pitcher this season. The only returning pitcher for the Lady Flames, Bachman has had to step up and lead in the circle with two transfers and two freshmen joining the pitching staff. 

“This is definitely the best pitching staff that Liberty has ever had,” Bachman said. “The amount of unique talent that we all bring to the table and being able to work well together, it’s crazy.” 

Photo by Chase Reed

Bachman was awarded the Conference USA Preseason Pitcher of the Year, expected to be Liberty’s ace. 

“I don’t think about it,” Bachman said. “It’s awesome to get the recognition, but at the same time, let’s prove it out on the field.” 

With a young but talented staff on her hands, Richardson will soon see what they are made of when they face some of the top programs in the country. 

“It’s big for the pitching staff to throw in the early season so that when we do get to the postseason, we have seen it before and are comfortable,” Bachman said. 

With the season only days away, the Lady Flames are beyond excited and ready to get going. Liberty will travel to Florida, where it will play 11 games over the course of 10 days. This road trip will feature some of the best teams in the country including Oregon, Clemson and Notre Dame, among others. 

Bessire is the special assignments reporter for the Liberty Champion. Follow him on X

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