Liberty claimed its first regional title in program history, downing Ohio, 4-3, in the winner-take-all NISC Regional final on Thursday at Liberty Softball Stadium.
With the win, Liberty (41-23) ties a program record with 41 victories. Ohio ends its season at 42-18. These two teams played a closely-contested final series today, with Ohio taking game one, 1-0, in 12 innings and Liberty clinching the regional championship with a 4-3 win, this evening.
The Lady Flames have advanced to the six-team NISC Championship Round, which will be held Sunday through Wednesday at a site to be determined. Brackets and pairings will be announced later tonight. The final six teams will be Liberty, Cal Poly, Weber State, Illinois State, Lamar and Kennesaw State.
Liberty has also set a new program record with 17 home wins on the season, holding a 17-7 record at Liberty Softball Stadium this year.
Kenzie Friesen (13-3) earned the win, allowing three runs (one earned) on four hits, walking one in five innings. Chase Cassady tossed two hitless innings, striking out one to earn her first save.
Danielle Stiene (14-8) drew the loss, giving up three runs on four hits with one strikeout in 2 1/3 innings of work. Reliever Savannah Jo Dorsey pitched 4 2/3 frames, giving up one run on five hits while fanning two and walking one.
For Liberty, Amber Bishop and Tori Zavodny had matching hitting lines of 2-for-4 with one RBI and one run scored. Zavodny stole two bases, as the Lady Flames have tied the program single-season record with 93 stolen bases.
Taylor Saxton went 2-for-2 with two RBI to lead Ohio.
Liberty struck first, scoring three times in the top of the third while using the short game. Click bunted for a hit with one out and Autumn Bishop followed with a single to left. Amber Bishop singled to left, plating Click for a 1-0 lead. Dorsey came on in relief of Stiene. With runners on second and third, consecutive bunts by Zavodny and Alexia Taylor produced two more runs. Robertson then grounded out, and Zavodny was caught trying to steal home, but not before Liberty took a 3-0 lead.
Alexa Holland drew a leadoff walk in the bottom of the third before going to second on a groundout. Saxton then bunted for a hit before Taylor's throw got away from first baseman Autumn Bishop, allowing Holland to score. Saxton was then thrown out at second on the play, but not before the Bobcats had trimmed the Liberty lead to 3-1.
The Lady Flames added what proved to be the winning run in the top of the fifth. Zavodny reached on a two-out bunt base hit before a Taylor single put runners on the corners. Sarah Robertson then beat out an infield single and Zavodny scored for a 4-1 lead.
Ohio fought back in the bottom of the fifth inning. With two outs and runners on second and third, Saxton singled up the middle, plating a pair to trim the deficit to 4-3. A groundout ended the inning.
After a leadoff bunt single by Jamie Wren in the sixth, Cassady came on for a six-out save, retiring the final six batters she faced to send Liberty to the NISC Championship Round.