Power driven — Hot bats put Patriots back in state tournament

May 27, 2014

By Christina Corrales-Toy

The Liberty Patriots softball team celebrates after clinching a state tournament berth with their 10-1 win over West Seattle at Lower Woodland Park May 22. By Christina Corrales-Toy

The Liberty Patriots softball team celebrates after clinching a state tournament berth with their 10-1 win over West Seattle at Lower Woodland Park May 22. By Christina Corrales-Toy

The Liberty High School softball team is back where it belongs.

The perennially state-bound squad will return to the state tournament, after missing out on the fun a year ago. The Patriots clinched a 2014 berth with a 3-1 record in the two-day SeaKing District Tournament May 21-22.

“I’m just trying to get back to where the program should and used to be,” second-year coach Zach Bartholomew said. “It’s always kind of been the same story. They’re not always the most talented group, but nobody ever wants to play us because we’ll jump up and beat anybody at anytime.”

At a time of year when nearly every game is a win-or-go-home battle, the Patriots stayed alive when it mattered most.

After emerging from the KingCo tournament, something they couldn’t do last year, the Patriots’ journey to state continued May 21 with a loser-out game against Nathan Hale in the first round of the district tournament at Seattle’s Lower Woodland Park.

They collected 10 hits, made ample use of some small ball and received another solid outing from staff ace Sydney Hopper to easily put away Nathan Hale, 13-1. That win earned them at least two more games in the tournament.

Shortly after defeating the Raiders, Liberty collected its only loss of the tournament, when it fell to Bainbridge, 13-12, in a thriller.

“I had nothing but great things to say, because they just battled that entire time,” Bartholomew said of the team’s performance against one of the Metro League’s top teams.

The loss put the Patriots in the loser’s bracket, but it didn’t end their season. They came back on May 22, knowing they had to win two games to make it to state, or they were going home.

The Patriots held off a late rally by Eastside Catholic to beat the Crusaders, 6-3, in the first game of the day. Senior Olivia Kutzke and Hopper both had homeruns in the game.

After that, Liberty needed just one more win to get to state, and it would have to come against West Seattle.

Coaches elected to give Hopper, who threw nearly three games in a row, a break, and instead give senior shortstop Liza VanCamp the start in the state-clinching game.

“I just started pitching again this year, so I was really nervous up there,” VanCamp said. “But I love being put in pressure situations, because I just feel I do better and I’m so motivated.”

VanCamp performed more than admirably, giving up just one run in seven innings and leading her team to a convincing 10-1 win over West Seattle. Kutzke also added what was her second homerun of the day.

The Liberty offense was on a tear the entire two-day tournament. They scored 41 runs on 49 hits over the four games. VanCamp, the team’s leadoff hitter, was nearly impossible to get out, going a combined 10-for-17 at the plate, and wreaking havoc on the base paths.

Hopper and Kutzke, the team’s three and four hitters, supplied the power, both sending pitches over the fence. Patriots Hannah McMullin, Madi Jones and Jenny Walker also had a nice two days at the plate.

This year’s team resembles some of the old-school toughness that defined past Liberty squads, Bartholomew said. It’s why, as soon as they earned the state berth, the team sent out orders for T-shirts emblazoned with the words “Liberty Tough.”

“That’s what our coaches have been telling us. We’re swift and scrappy like we were back when Liberty baseball won the championship and Liberty softball was at the top,” Kutzke said.

The Patriots certainly sound like past Liberty softball teams, too. It’s hard not to notice the boisterous cheering emanating from the dugout.

“We’re the obnoxious, really loud team that messes with everyone’s head,” VanCamp joked.

Their journey isn’t over yet. The state tournament is May 30-31 at Lacey’s Regional Athletic Complex. The fields there are turf, so, until then, the Liberty girls will practice on the baseball team’s turf field, since the girls’ infield is dirt.

“This team is fun and as long as we stay disciplined, that’s fine,” Bartholomew said. “That’s what we’re about. We’re going to work hard, we’re going to have fun and we’re going to go out and surprise people.”

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