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Liberty Softball clinches CUSA Championship with walk-off win over Western Kentucky

Liberty University Softball clinched its fourth consecutive conference tournament title and first in CUSA on Saturday. (Photo by David Hurley)


Redshirt freshman Savannah Jessee’s ninth-inning double drove in Megan Fortner to lift the No. 1-seeded Liberty University Softball team to a 4-3 victory over No. 2 Western Kentucky in Saturday’s Conference USA Championship title game at New Mexico State Softball Complex.

The Lady Flames (36-23) became the first team since Western Kentucky in 2015 to capture the CUSA crown in their first season in the league.

Liberty had the bases loaded and one out in the bottom of the seventh in a 3-3 tie before Hilltoppers relief pitcher Rylan Smith struck out back-to-back batters to send the game into extra innings. Western Kentucky (33-20-1) loaded the bases with no outs in the top of the eighth, but Lady Flames pitcher Elena Escobar (14-5) got out of the jam. She induced a short fly out followed by a line drive to shallow right center where Liberty center fielder Mary Claire Wilson made a running catch and threw out the runner at second base for an inning-ending double play. 

The Lady Flames quickly ended the game in the ninth when Fortner hit a leadoff double and Jessee followed with a two-base gapper to left center for the walk-off win, setting off an ensuing championship celebration.

Liberty won four straight elimination games after dropping Thursday afternoon’s opener against the No. 4-seeded host Aggies. It rallied from behind to win a slugfest over the University of Texas El Paso on Thursday night, 13-10, before eliminating both Louisiana Tech and New Mexico State on Friday.

With the win, the Lady Flames claim Conference USA’s automatic bid to the 2024 NCAA Division I Softball Championship. This is the seventh time in program history, and fourth season in a row, that Liberty will compete in the Regional. The Lady Flames won conference tournament titles in 2002, 2011, 2018, 2021, and 2022. They received an at-large bid last season.

Escobar was joined on the all-tournament team by Jessee, infielder Brooke Roberts, Wilson, and designated player Brynn McManus, while Roberts earned tournament MVP honors after hitting 7-for-13 with seven RBI, which tied McManus for the team lead.

On Sunday night, the Lady Flames were selected to the Athens (Ga.) Regional of the 2024 Division I Softball Tournament. They will open the regional against the University of Charlotte at 3 p.m. EST Friday on ESPN+ in a regional field that also includes host and No. 11 national seed Georgia and UNC Wilmington.

Making its fourth-straight NCAA Tournament appearance, Liberty is 5-6 in its last three NCAA Regionals, reaching the Regional Finals in 2021 and 2023.

Read the complete story on Liberty’s Athletics website.

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