Strikeout series: Solid pitching helps the Flames claim series win over WKU

A chilly night led to an ice-cold offense for the Flames softball team in game one, but it bounced back in a big way, taking the weekend series over Western Kentucky two games to one.

The slow start was due to a lack of offense. Liberty University did not put up a run in the first game and did not have a base runner until the sixth. In that sixth inning, the Flames were able to load the bases but stranded three runners on the base paths as senior outfielder Mary Claire Wilson lined out to right center field. 

The Flames would have one more chance in the seventh inning after another scoreless inning by freshman Kaylan Yoder (8-6 record). However, they went down 1-2-3, redshirt freshman catcher Savannah Jessee was wrung up looking on a controversial third strike and the crowd let the umpire have it after the call. 

This was a true pitcher’s duel between Yoder and WKU’s Katie Gardner (10-6). They gave up a combined three hits and fooled batters all night. 

“(Gardner) had a good enough changeup to fool our hitters,” Yoder said.

Flames Head Coach Dot Richardson also pointed out the skill of Gardner and how the pitcher made it tough on her team at the plate. 

“The problem was with the changeup or the off-speed. We were swinging at it when it was in the dirt or really low. … (Gardner) really did a great job.”

Yoder threw another gem on a Friday night, as she has done most of the season. In her last five starts on Fridays, she has only given up one earned run. Richardson has been impressed by Yoder and was not surprised when she went out and shoved again.

“She’s a competitor; she did great,” Richardson said postgame. “She shows up and it’s exciting. She has a great future with us, and we’re really excited about that.”

Yoder finished the night with seven innings pitched, allowing only two hits and one run and striking out seven. 

Yoder has held opponents to one earned run in her last five Friday starts | Photo by Luke Bessire

“I feel good every Friday night,” Yoder said. “Every time they tell me I’m starting, I get in the zone. I do a lot of stuff before the game like breathing, relaxing and visualizing. And I come in with a lot of confidence because I know my team has me and my catcher has me.”

Richardson pointed to this moment as one where the team needed to respond. 

“If the response is a competitive response, which I think we have a lot of competitors on the team, it will be fun to watch,” Richardson said.

And fun to watch it was. Liberty took care of business the next two nights, beating WKU 9-1 in five innings on Saturday and 7-5 on Sunday. Those bats came alive for a combined 16 runs, 17 hits and eight walks. 

In both games it was a complete offensive effort, with six different batters recording hits on Saturday and seven on Sunday. Liberty also minimized errors, recording two to WKU’s five in the two wins. 

“Our defensive plan is always a simple plan,” junior utility Brooke Roberts said. 

The Flames only allowed 13 hits and seven runs between the three games. Wins were given to junior pitcher Elena Escobar for both Saturday and Sunday’s games. 

This weekend pushes Liberty to 22-16 on the season and 12-3 in Conference USA play, keeping it in first place with WKU trailing just behind with a 10-5 conference record. 

Liberty has four straight road games after this: one at UVA and then a three-game series against Middle Tennessee State. The Flames will be back home at Kamphuis Field April 17 to face North Carolina, and the game will air on ESPN+.

Hill is a sports reporter for the Liberty Champion

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