Liberty finished off a three-game sweep of Gardner-Webb, as Chandler Ball pitched a three-hit shutout during a 4-0 victory in the Lady Flames' regular-season finale, Saturday at Kamphuis Field at Liberty Softball Stadium.
With the win, the Lady Flames (30-26, 16-8 Big South) clinch their first 30-win season since going 30-30 in 2011. Liberty has also set a new program record for Big South wins. The Runnin' Bulldogs fall to 18-32, 4-17 in conference play following their 11th straight loss.
Liberty recorded its 11th shutout of the season, the most by the Lady Flames since posting a program-record 20 shutouts in 1999. Additionally, the Lady Flames held Gardner-Webb to just one run in this weekend's series, the fewest total runs ever allowed by Liberty in a three-game Big South series.
Ball was one of six Liberty seniors to be honored prior to today's game. Seniors Ball, Katie Han, Blair Lawrence, Mickey Loveridge and Kassidy McCoy all started, while student assistant Alexis Albert was honored as well.
Ball (5-6) tossed her seventh career shutout, and second this season, allowing just three hits, walking four and striking out three. She is now tied with Sarah Ellis (2006-09) with 44 career wins, sharing fifth place in program history.
Ashley Wark (0-3) drew the loss, allowing four runs on five hits, walking four in 3 1/3 innings pitched. Summer Darnell pitched 2 2/3 innings of hitless relief.
Han went 2-for-3 with one RBI and one run scored, while Mickey Loveridge batted 1-for-2 with one RBI. Sarah Robertson and Alexia Taylor both singled and scored one run. Tori Zavodny drew a walk and stole two bases.
Three different Runnin' Bulldogs recorded one hit each, in Amanda Gomes, Scarlett Harris and Jill Blank.
Zavodny reached on an error to begin the home half of the first. She stole second, and went to third on a groundout. After McCoy walked and stole second, Rylee Reynolds grounded out to short to end the inning.
Liberty entered the scoring column in the bottom of the second. Han hit a leadoff infield single. A sacrifice bunt sent her to second, before Loveridge lined a single into right field, scoring Han for a 1-0 Lady Flames lead.
The Lady Flames extended their lead to 4-0 with a three-run third inning. Singles by Robertson and Taylor and a walk to McCoy loaded the bases with nobody out. Wark hit Reynolds with a pitch, plating Robertson. Han lined an RBI single to right. See then made it 4-0 with an RBI fielder's choice. Loveridge lined into a double play, bringing the inning to a close.
Ball kept the Runnin' Bulldogs hitless through the first three innings. Gomes led off the fourth with a single to left. Harris then drew a walk. The rally short-circuited, as a flyout and double play kept Gardner-Webb scoreless.
The Lady Flames loaded the bases with one out in the fourth. Reliever Darnell got out of the jam, as McCoy popped out and Zavodny was caught trying to steal home.
Liberty kept the shutout in order on two nice plays by Loveridge in the fifth. With one out, Kaylee Wacaster lined out to short, before Loveridge turned a Megan Gibbons grounder up the middle into a rally-ending groundout.
Both teams were held at bay the rest of the way. Ball sealed the shutout with a 1-2-3 seventh inning, retiring the last five batters she faced overall.
The Lady Flames have concluded their 2016 regular-season schedule. The Lady Flames will next compete at the 2016 Big South Softball Championship, held May 11-14 at Terry Field in Rock Hill, S.C. Seeding for the conference tournament will be announced next Sunday, May 8.