LYNCHBURG, Va. (BVM) – When college softball comes to mind, teams like Florida, Florida State, Oklahoma and UCLA are consistently among the top programs in the country. A program that is usually not lumped together with that group is Liberty. However, with their performance over the past five years, perhaps it should be. Liberty, as well as fellow Group of 5 school Louisiana-Lafayette, have had 40-plus win seasons each of the past five years, joining Florida, Florida State, Oklahoma and UCLA as the only Division I teams in the nation to achieve that feat.
“I have an amazing staff, I have experience in the sport that was given to me in my life and all the experience of my staff as well for us to be able to pour into these athletes,” Liberty head coach Dot Richardson said. “It’s humbling, that’s the best word I can say. We’ve come a long, long way in the program.”
Given their strong recent performance, one would think the Flames would have earned more national recognition, but that hasn’t happened – yet.
Perhaps this is due to the team’s lack of recent postseason success. While the squad has gone to the regional championship each of the last two times they’ve made the NCAA Division I tournament (2018 and 2021), they have unfortunately failed to ever win the regional title, keeping them out of the super regional round. With the program having never made it to the super regionals, there is a proverbial monkey on the team’s back and they’re looking to remove that this postseason.
“It’s a process and the process begins with first having the opportunity to do it,” Richardson said. “It really takes everything coming together in the postseason. … That’s what it’s going to take is the mindset of being able to play consistently and enjoy the freedom of just competing.”
With a 43-16 record, Liberty earned a spot in the Durham Regional hosted by No. 12 national seed Duke. The Flames will play their first game of the regional against the University of Georgia, an opponent the program has never played before. While they’ve never played, Richardson sees this as a possible advantage for her squad.
“I think it might be an advantage for us to have not played Georgia [because] when you look at their offense, they haven’t seen our pitching,” Richardson said. “So it might work out pretty interestingly; we will see how it all turns out this Friday.”
Though Liberty lacks experience against the Bulldogs, if it is able to overcome Georgia, it has a favorable history against its other two potential opponents.
The Flames currently hold a 12-10 all-time record over University of Maryland-Baltimore County, including Richardson being 1-0 with her second overall win with the program coming against the Retrievers, though they are 0-1 against UMBC in the NCAA tournament, having dropped a game in 2002. Against the other opponent, host Duke, Liberty has seen similar success going 2-1 all-time including winning a game against the Blue Devils earlier this year.
During that April 20 contest, the Flames were able to handle then-No. 9 ranked Duke at home 8-3. While the potential next meeting would be played in front of a more hostile crowd, the fact Liberty was able to see this year’s iteration of the Blue Devils already and were able to defeat them gives the team a strong opportunity to win again.
“This regional can be really interesting because I do believe it helps us to see teams,” Richardson said. “The advantage with Duke is to see their pitching, be able to kind of know how their offense works. I think it is definitely to our advantage, but we got to beat Georgia.”
Duke: Defeated. ✔️
Liberty snaps the No. 9 Blue Devils 11 game win-streak, our 2nd Top 25 W this season!
— Liberty Softball (@LibertySB) April 20, 2022
This year’s Liberty squad certainly has the potential to go further in the tournament than any other team in the program’s history. With a 29-4 record over their last 33 games, the Flames will be coming into the tournament as one of the country’s hotter teams and after securing their second straight ASUN championship, the first time the program has won back-to-back conference titles, the team couldn’t be more confident.
“The attitude by the players is one of excitement, freedom and competitiveness,” Richardson said. “When you have the momentum of not only winning but how we’ve been winning, we’re able to feed off each other. … In my opinion, the only way you win is when the team culture is together when everyone is supporting each other, and that’s been in the dugout all the way to the starters.”
While the road may not be easy, the Flames have proven they can win against top-flight opponents. The team had two wins this year against top 25 opponents, defeating then–No. 23 Notre Dame on March 5 and the previously mentioned victory over Duke. In addition to that, Liberty beat two other teams currently in the tournament field with wins over Lehigh and Ohio State.
“We beat Duke earlier this year, the kids know that it’s possible, we beat Notre Dame, Ohio State and all of them ranked in the top 25,” Richardson said. “These players know we can compete. … We’ve had some really competitive games so these players are prepared.”
Currently tied with the program record for single-season wins, Liberty understands that it could be on the precipice of history for the program and the school. With their string of recent success, the Flames will be a squad other tournament teams should not take likely. If they are able to overcome their regional round demons, perhaps they could become the Cinderella of this year’s Women’s College World Series and finally earn the national recognition they deserve.
“When you go into the postseason I’ve seen teams just catch on fire and, no pun intended, as the Lady Flames I hope we catch on fire,” Richardson said. “It could be a lot of fun, anything can happen in the postseason.”