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Liberty’s postseason magic disappears vs. Woodgrove in region softball quarterfinals

Tuesday, Jun. 3 | By Jeff Malmgren
Diane McDaniel had two of Liberty's four hits durin a 5-0 loss to Woodgrove in the quarterfinals of the 4A North Region tournament Monday. --Photo by Adam Goings
From the visitor's dugout of Woodgrove’s softball field, the Liberty Eagles had a clear view Monday of three “state finalist” banners that hang on the Wolverines’ left field fence.

That all but foretold the Eagles' 5-0 loss to Woodgrove in the quarterfinals of the Class 4A North Region tournament

"We were kind of intimidated by a few of those players we were hearing about," Liberty junior Diane McDaniel said.

Some of the Eagles, for example, had watched an online video of Woodgrove’s Adriana Erickson hitting 92 home runs during a single batting practice session. That corroborated the Wolverines’ reputation as an incredible offensive team that has outscored opponents by an average of 10 runs per game this season en route to a 22-2 record.

So, even after the Eagles (9-13) began Monday with consecutive hits in the top of the first inning, their enthusiasm seemed subdued compared to their exuberance during an upset victory last week over King George in the Conference 22 tournament.

“We didn’t have the energy at all,” Liberty senior Sadie Rynestad said.

Perhaps not coincidentally, Liberty failed to score in that first inning against Woodgrove.

“Nobody was really talking,” McDaniel said. “It’s like some of us were here, but some of us were not.”

Conversely, the Eagles' energy abounded May 28 when they shocked top-seeded King George in the semifinals of the conference tournament. Liberty won that game, 8-0, despite playing as the No. 4 seed and having lost to the Foxes twice during the regular season.

The Eagles took a 1-0 lead in the first inning of that game, which bolstered their confidence and set the stage for a seven-run fourth inning.

“We wanted that same energy” against Woodgrove, Rynestad said. “They’re a good team, but we’ve already had a big upset. We knew we had the potential to beat a good team … but our energy was lacking today. That’s what lost us the game."

Liberty coach Charlie Padgett had similar thoughts.

"Against King George, that’s the team I like to remember because they played to their potential that game," he said of the Eagles. "I blame myself for not being able to get that out of them every game."

Beating King George enhanced the Eagles' expectations for the rest of the postseason, so subsequent losses to Fauquier (3-1, in the conference final) and Woodgrove left them unsatisfied even though few people expected them to even advance to the region tournament.

"Now that we did see how [high] our potential was, it’s kind of disappointing to see how our season went," McDaniel said.

The Wolverines, meanwhile, advanced to a region semifinal game Wednesday against Louisa as they attempt to return to the state final for the fourth consecutive season.

"We’ll give it a whirl," Woodgrove coach Joe Spicer said. But "there’s an awful lot of good teams here."

Although Liberty lost Monday, it actually fared relatively well against a Woodgrove team that has scored more than five runs in 21 of 24 games and outscored opponents, 269-30. The Wolverines amassed seven hits and three walks against Liberty, but they stranded seven runners.

"We’d get runners in scoring position and they’d get a ground ball that they’d make a good play on," Spicer said. "Third base and shortstop, I thought, really closed down some rallies."

The Eagles also committed four errors, though, so starting pitcher Jerrin Garnett ended up with only two earned runs (three unearned) over six innings.

"She did a real good job of mixing her pitches," Spicer said. "We didn’t seem to get many real good looks."

Erickson went 2-for-3 for Woodgrove with an RBI and a run, while Lindsay Harris went 2-for-3 with a run. Grace Sanderson went 1-for-3 with a two-RBI double that gave the Wolverines a 2-0 lead in the bottom of the second inning.

Woodgrove starting pitcher Corinne Vennitti got the win after striking out five while allowing four hits and a walk over 5 1/3 innings.

McDaniel led Liberty's offense by going 2-for-3. She hit a single down the left field line in the top of the first inning to give the Eagles runners on first and second with no outs after Leslie Bourgeois led off with a single up the middle. Vennitti, however, then recorded three consecutive outs to end the threat.

"It’s a huge opportunity we just missed out on," Padgett said. “I got irritated ... because I saw it slipping away."

That first inning ended with fly outs by Rynestad and Emily Fitzwater (0-for-1, two walks) and a Taeylor Mallam strikeout.

“If we would have brought Leslie and Diane around [to score], we would have definitely had a lot more confidence," Rynestad said. “We would have been hyped because that’s what happened with King George. As soon as we got a couple hits and saw that was getting in their head, we just went crazy."

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