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Brentsville remains thorn in Liberty’s softball season with 10-0 win

Friday, Apr. 29 | By Jeff Malmgren
Liberty shortstop Morgan Hatcher reaches for a ball thrown as Brentsville's Kayla Nadeau advances to second on a whild pitch during the Tigers' 10-0 win Friday in Bealeton. --Fauquier Times Staff Photo/Randy Litzinger
Brentsville remains a class below and a cut above the Liberty Eagles.

The Tigers, a Class 3A softball team, defeated 4A Liberty, 10-0, Friday in five innings on the road in Bealeton, giving the Eagles a rare loss this season.

“That's what you expect from one of the elite teams in the area,” Liberty coach Ryan Washington said of Brenstville. “You can not compare this team to anybody.”

So there's no shame in losing to the Tigers, even via mercy rule. They advanced to the 3A state semifinals each of the past two seasons and appear destined for a return trip this spring with a 15-1 record thus far. Liberty, meanwhile, still has an impressive 10-3 record despite losing Friday.

Brentsville's victory gave the Tigers their seventh shutout of 2016 and also marked the first time Liberty's oft-prolific offense failed to score in a game. Brentsville, in fact, is one of only two teams to beat Liberty this season, also winning, 12-1, April 5.

“I think some people get a little intimidated,” Eagles sophomore Makaela Kestner said. “They're good.”

Regardless, Liberty and Brentsville belong to different classes so the Eagles won't run into the Nokesville juggernaut during the postseason.

“We don't have to worry about them, but I always like our non-conference [schedule] to be tough,” Washington said. “It's always great to face those elite pitchers or hitters.”

Brentsville has three players who made the 3A East all-region teams last season, including junior pitcher Leah Shipp (committed to Michigan State) and junior catcher Riley McCarthy (Florida Gulf Coast). That duo combined for four of the Tigers' 15 hits Friday, and Shipp allowed only two hits as their starting pitcher.

The Tigers have similarly dominated many teams this season. They've outscored opponents by 9.3 runs per game, which certainly serves as a good omen.

“We can definitely get back to states [but] we've got a tough region,” Brentsville coach Amy Beard said.

The Tigers lost to Abingdon in the 2015 state semifinals, 3-0, to finish with a 23-3 record and a region championship. Liberty, meanwhile, finished with 9-13 record and did not advance beyond the Conference 22 tournament.

The Eagles, however, then lost only three seniors to graduation so they have already accumulated more victories this spring than in all of 2015.

“I'm proud of where we're at with our season right now,” Washington said, “and we're going to keep it up.”

Kestner agreed.

“I didn't know what to expect [entering the season] because I knew we were going to have such a young team,” she said. “I like what we've become.”

Liberty's roster features five freshman and four sophomores with only one senior.

“But they've been playing for a very long time,” Washington said. “And they're always fighting to get better. They're never satisfied, which is great to have with a young team.”

The Eagles did struggle Friday against Shipp, though. She pitched a perfect game through three innings en route to improving her record to 16-1. She has a .72 ERA and a 136-to-3 strikeout-to-walk ratio.

“She pounds the strike zone, and she goes high-low,” Washington said. “And then she'll slow it down on you. If you're up there expecting a walk, you're not going to get on base. You've got to get up there and be aggressive.”

Shipp had seven strikeouts Friday over five innings.

“Our battery – Leah and Riley – they do a great job,” Beard said. “They're so comfortable with each other. If Leah doesn't agree with a pitch, then Riley will find another one [or] they'll talk about it.”

Anna Hockman and Kestner produced Liberty's only two hits with consecutive singles to begin the bottom of the fourth inning while trailing 8-0. Shipp, however, induced a fly out and a strikeout. She then walked Ally Fitzwater to load the bases before ending the threat by striking out Kourtney Leazer.

In the first inning, Kestner hit a ball deep down the right-field line only to watch Lexi Magruder make a difficult catch. Center fielder Erin Jones made an even better catch in the left-field gap to rob Fitzwater of an extra-base hit during the second inning.

“We had some great defensive plays,” Beard said. “Those were deep hits. They did a great job tracking those.”

The Eagles, meanwhile, struggled at times defensively. They finished with six errors, including two in the first inning that helped Brentsville take a 4-0 lead.

“We're going to make them because we're a younger team,” Washington said. “But today we were headcases. … We just didn't overcome [errors] like we usually do.

“If our defense stepped up a little bit more today it would have been a totally different game,” she said. “I'm not saying we would have come out with a victory, but it wouldn't have been 10-0.”

The Tigers frequently tested Liberty's defense. They hit many hard ground balls and completely avoided striking out against Eagles starting pitcher Jerrin Garnett, who took the loss after allowing six earned runs on 15 hits and zero walks over five innings.

“We can be pretty good when we all are [focused] in the game,” Kestner said. “Just some days we zone out and no one's in the game.”

McCarthy, Brentsville's leadoff hitter, went 2-for-4 with two runs and a stolen base. Kayla Nadeau followed with three runs and an RBI on 2-for-4 hitting, while Shipp went 2-for-4 in the No. 3 spot with an RBI, a double and two runs (scored by a pinch runner). Going 3-for-4 were Magruder (three RBIs) in the cleanup spot and Jones (RBI, stolen base) at No. 5.

Overall this season, Shipp has a .540 batting average with 26 RBIs, 17 runs, five home runs and eight doubles. McCarthy has a .526 average with 22 runs, 14 RBIs and four doubles, while Magruder has a .377 average with 22 RBIs, 18 runs, two home runs and two doubles.

“Having Lexi back in the lineup is a big boost for us,” Beard said of Magruder, who returned this season after suffering an ACL injury in 2015.

Jones, meanwhile, has a .429 average with 17 RBIs, 11 runs and two doubles, while Nadeau has a .396 average, with 23 runs, five RBIs and two doubles. McCarthy and Jones also have one home run and one triple each.

“They definitely are well know amongst other teams,” Beard said of Brentsville's top of the order, “and for good reason.”

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