West Valley Preps
Ashleigh Perkins’ senior night – and as Liberty’s only softball senior it is truly her senior night – was going as well as she could have dreamed of.
Except for a hit. She needed a hit.
In the bottom of the fifth inning against Mountain Ridge Friday, she got that hit, and an RBI, on a bad hop grounder. It capped a three-run inning that grew the Lions’ lead to 7-2 en route to a 9-4 win.
“It was exactly how I thought it would be. We played good and it was a good ceremony after,” Perkins said. “The hit was good and the girl missed it. Then she had me steal, which is not like me, I never steal.”
Both teams entered this game knowing they have a spot in the 6A play-in games April 24. And both knew that, failing strange events, they will play that game on the road.
Liberty (8-13 overall, 8-10 regular season) came in ranked No. 18, though it was three full rankings points behind No. 16 Chandler, who is likely to be the lowest ranked play-in host.
Lions coach Kara Landauer is happy to see her team break a seven-game losing streak.
“Some of these bigger hitters we face have been tough. We can put up runs – we scored 8 against Pinnacle – and we’re in these games,” Landauer said. “I’m pretty sure we have the best outfield in the state and they play hard for their pitchers.”
Mountain Ridge (5-12) came in ranked No. 21 in 6A and still has its final home game on tap April 22 against Pinnacle.
Mountain Lions coach Kent Decker said this team is very capable if it avoids mistakes.
Unfortunately for the visitors, their final innings were stuffed with errors.
“If we make the easy plays, we’ll be in the ballgame. We’re that good and we can put runs up,” Decker said.
Liberty grabbed a 2-0 first inning lead on its own. Junior Madyson Devers singled in the opening run.
Freshman catcher Maycee Hilt broke her catching wrist during basketball season and missed several early softball games. Since she settled in behind the plate and as the No.5 hitter, this newcomer has made up for lost time.
She hit an RBI single in the right and an RBI double in the third.
“When we got her back, she came out and exploded. She hit a home run in her first at bat. You never would have even known she was out. She’s been a mainstay in our lineup and as a freshman she commands behind the plate and she’s extremely coachable,” Landauer said.
Abigail Gaona drove in another Liberty run with a fourth-inning single, then was thrown out trying for second.
Mountain Ridge sliced its deficit in half in the fifth. Sophomore Megan Lake looped a hit to left center and sprinted her way to a triple.
Senior pitcher Tiffany Williams drove her in on a bloop single. Three Mountain Lions drew walks, allowing another run to come home.
Rylie Gaston entered in relief of Liberty sophomore starter Jordan Chowaniec, who made her mark in the fourth by getting out of a bases loaded jam by inducing a flyout and getting a strikeout.
Lacking a true ace, Landauer said she splits starting duties between Chowaniec and Gaston, with Isabella Jones seeing time in relief.
“We’re young and it seems like once one (error) happens and they just panic. If we can just stay away from the big inning we’re right there,” Decker said.
Decker’s team immediately gave that inning back, with interest. Two errors and an infield hit loaded the bases for Liberty. Junior Tatum Chestnut brought one home on a sacrifice fly.
Sophomore Alexia Boring tagged up for second and scored thanks to a fielding error and a throwing error – for a 6-2 lead.
“We have a lot of girls on this team that know what to do situationally. Base running is what won this game. That’s kind of how it’s been all year long. They came in with that knowledge,” Landauer said.
Perkins added her RBI. Liberty tacked on two sixth inning runs thanks to more Mountain Lions errors. Mountain Ridge picked up two from bases loaded walks in the seventh.
Liberty lost a 16-14 slugfest at Mountain Ridge April 11. More than revenge, though the home team wanted to give its leader a fitting sendoff.
“They came out here to win it for her. She’s been a four-year starter. Her freshman year she was nervous and quiet and she’s grown so much. It’s been fun to watch her grow and I’m going to miss her but we’ve still got a run in state,” Landauer said.