Softball: Liberty falls to Kentwood in extra innings

Patriots led 3-1, but Conks’ four unanswered runs crushed Liberty’s hopes for a first win of the season.

After making it to the state quarterfinals last year as the third seed, no one could have predicted an 0-3 start to the regular season for the Liberty Patriots softball team.

But the tides are turning for the blue and green. On March 14, the Patriots faced one of he best pitchers in the state of Washington, Sarah Wright of Kentwood.

Liberty fell 5-3 in extra innings to the Kentwood Conquerors, but the Patriots were scratching and clawing even down to their last out.

“She might have thrown a no hitter against us last year. This year we came in and our concentration was on working our at-bats, being smart at it and work her pitch count up and get her tied. She’s one of the best in the state, if not the whole West Coast. It’s nice to see someone like Sarah throw and go against that kind of competition,” Head Coach Lindsay Barnes said.

Kentwood caused some problems for the Patriots, specifically on the base paths. The first three runs of the game all came in preventable scenarios for Coach Barnes’ side. It’s a learning experience that Liberty will take into the regular season.

“They know everything is a process. You’re not going to come out here and know everything at first. We have a solid group of new freshmen and getting them in and finding rotations. It’s about doing better than we did yesterday,” Barnes said.

Kentwood’s first run came across on a first-and-third play, in which the runner broke right when Liberty catcher Emi Connell released the ball in the third inning.

On the flipside of the third, Liberty found a way to get runs across, which is really impressive against someone like Wright.

With one out in the third, Kaila Siu and Avery Huh drew back-to-back walks to put some pressure on Wright. Connell hit a ground ball to third that was over-thrown to the first baseman, which allowed Siu and Huh to score and gave Liberty a 2-1 lead. Two batters later, Liberty scored another run, this time on a wild pitch. The Patriots’ bench was on fire and the energy the girls played with was something that Barnes was proud of.

“I love when they get fired up ‘cause then I get fired up. ... It is a good reminder that they are on track and getting the message. It’s not just about sports. It’s about teaching them about life ... We feed off of each other’s good energy,” Barnes said.

The two-run lead would last until the sixth inning when Kentwood threatened the Patriots again. Kentwood tied with game with more defensive problems for the Patriots. The second run of the game for the Conks was scored the exact same way as the first.

The very next batter laid a bunt down, and after some miscommunication at second base as to who was covering, Kentwood squeaked another run across to tie the game at 3-3.

Of those two runs, not a single ball in play reached the outfield grass. Huh threw a gem against a state qualifying team in Kentwood. Up until extra innings, she had allowed just five hits and three earned runs, two which were credited as stealing home. Huh is all Liberty has in these tight competitive games, and she has risen to the occasion every time her name is called.

“We played Monday, Tuesday in that horrible weather. She’s pitched every single inning for us and has done phenomenal,” Barnes said.

“She’s got her game face on all the time,” Barnes added.

In arguably the biggest at-bat of the night, Huh came up just short. In the top of the eighth, tied at 3-3, Kentwood’s JJ Ursino took a 1-1 fastball from Huh and drove it over the fence for a go-ahead home run.

Liberty wouldn’t go quietly into the night in their half of the eighth inning. Siu worked a leadoff walk and after a double steal, Liberty had the tying run on second base and the winning run stepping up to the dish in Emi Connell.

Connell broke the school record for home runs in a season a year ago, but hasn’t caught one this year, and the moment seemed to be writing itself. She took a crack at a 1-1 pitch from Wright and hit it sky high, but it couldn’t get out of the infield, and Kentwood escaped with a win that was right there for the taking.

Liberty third baseman Abby Gallas in the box against Kentwood. Ben Ray / The Reporter

Liberty third baseman Abby Gallas in the box against Kentwood. Ben Ray / The Reporter

Patriot sophomore Avery Huh eyes down the catcher against the Conks of Kentwood. Ben Ray / The Reporter

Patriot sophomore Avery Huh eyes down the catcher against the Conks of Kentwood. Ben Ray / The Reporter