Loudoun Liberty XU outscored opponents 25-8, including two shutouts, and won the “A/AA” division championship of the Top Gun Hawaiian Dual softball tournament in North Myrtle Beach, S.C.
P Chloe Sparks, C Allie Eicholtz and SS Mackenzie Shull set the tone for the weekend early in Saturday’s pool play opener, a 3-0 shutout of Carolina Elite 10U (Benton) out of Monroe, N.C. After the Carolina Elite (Benton)’s leadoff hitter singled to right-field, Eicholtz fired a laser to Shull covering second on the next play to catch the runner trying to steal second. From there, Sparks scattered three more singles over five innings in the 60-minute timed game, striking out seven. Liberty scored all three of its runs in the bottom of the second, with Brynnly Thomson leading off with a single and advancing to second on a groundout by LF Sabine Curiel. After a strikeout, 3B Gianna Saporito hit a triple to right, plating Thomson; Saporito come home on an overthrow at third, making the score 2-0. OF Mia Jones then drew a walk and scored on a rocket of a double o left by 1B Callie Robinson. With their running game shut down by Eicholtz and Shull, Carolina Elite (Benton) never got a runner past second base.
As LLXU prepared for Game 2 and scores from other pool games reportedly very close, it became clear the field was extremely evenly matched. Thomson toed the rubber for Game two, facing off a different Carolina Elite team out of Lexington, N.C. coached by Derek Taylor. Carolina Elite (Taylor) put up two runs in the top of the first as Thomas struggled with her command and walked the first two batters. The first scored on a wild pitch and the second advanced to third on a single to right, only to score when the next batter grounded out to second. Thomson then settled in, surrendering no more hits and striking out six the rest of the way. LLXU did record five hits, including in the third when CF Addie Pratt had an infield single and scored on a hard-hit ball by Sparks that resulted in a fielding error by Carolina Elite (Taylor). Thomson led the fourth off with a triple and might have scored, except a hesitation error resulted in an out diving back into third. After a groundout by RF Campbell Reich, LLXU had another opportunity to score when Curie roped a hard-hit double into the gap in left center, but she ended up stranded to end the game, a 2-1 loss.
LLXU’s offense finally woke up against Five Star Fastpitch out of Loganville, GA in the nightcap on Saturday. After Eicholtz lined out to lead off the game in the top of the first, Sparks hit a hard grounder to the right side that was misplayed by the Five Star Fastpitch second baseman. A sacrifice bunt attempt by Shull resulted in an overthrow into right field by the catcher; Sparks scored from first base and Shull ended up at third. Thomson plated Shull with a ground-ball single to right. A single by Curiel moved Thomson to third, where she ended up stranded. With Sparks back in the circle, a couple of defensive errors in the bottom of the first let Five Star Fastpitch back into the game and they tied it 2-2. Both teams put up zero in the second inning and Eicholtz got LLXU going in the top of the third with an infield single and stealing second. Sparks helped her cause with her own infield single, advancing Eicholtz to third. Shull bunted, plating Eicholtz and advancing Sparks to third. After Shull went to second base on defensive indifference, Thomson reached on a dropped third strike play, loading the bases for Curiel, who stepped in with a hard-hit single to left, plating Sparks and Shull. A ground-out by Robinson advanced Thomson and Curiel to third and second, respectively. An infield single by Saporito scored Thomson. Jones collected an RBI with her own infield single. A groundout by Reich plated Saporito and a single by Pratt, playing catcher in this game, scored Jones. LLXU scored seven total in the inning to take a 9-2 lead, which they never relinquished. In total, Sparks gave up two runs (none earned) and struck out seven.
Going into Sunday as the No. 2 seed, LLXU knew it would play one of the two teams it had defeated the day before as both were facing off in the quarterfinal. That game went into extra innings, with Carolina Elite 10U (Benton) prevailing over Five Star Fastpitch. If Carolina Elite (Benton) was looking for revenge for the day before, its hopes would soon dashed. Thomson, showing none of the initial struggles she experienced in the first inning Saturday, induced grounders from the first two hitters that were vacuumed up by 2B Kendyl Dabkowski. After giving up a single, the fourth batter of the inning also popped up to Dabkowski. In the bottom half of the inning, C Eicholtz manufactured a run with an infield single to third and two stolen bases; she scored on a groundout by Shull. From there, there was no more scoring until the fourth. Thomson started the LLLXU rally in the bottom of the fourth with a fly ball single to center. After Curiel popped out, Saporito and Jones drew walks to load the bases. Then aggressive baserunning by LLXU caused the Carolina Elite (Benton) to come undone: First, Thomson scored on a wild pitch. But fielding errors resulted in Saporito and Jones scoring on the same play, putting LLXU up 4-0. A groundout by Reich and strikeout by Pratt ended the inning. Thomson struck out the side in the top of the fifth, clearing the way for LLXU’s scoring barrage to continue. In the bottom of the fifth, Eicholtz singled on a fly ball to left. Sparks smoked a line drive to left. Shull laid down a perfect bunt, loading the bases for Thomson, who flied into a fielder’s choice in right field; Eicholtz scored. With Sparks at third and Thomson at first, Curiel smoked a double to left, plating Sparks and Thomson. Curiel advanced to third as Robinson drew a walk. An infield single by Reich plated Curiel for the 8th run, ending the game by mercy rule.
With barely time to catch their breath, the girls prepared to play the championship game, a 90-minute affair versus a third Carolina Elite team, this one out of Mebane, N.C. and coached by Lewis Foster. With Sparks back in the circle, Carolina Elite (Foster) jumped out to a 2-run lead in the first on a series of singles and overthrows trying to catch runners stealing second. A higher velocity pitcher than the previous game also flummoxed Liberty players’ timing the first time through the order, keeping the score 2-0 through two and a half innings. In the bottom of the third, however, Liberty’s batters adapted to the new pitcher came to life. Reich got things started by drawing a walk. After a strikeout by Pratt, Eicholtz clubbed a double to left, advancing Reich to third. An infield single by Sparks scored Reich and advanced Eicholtz to third. Eicholtz scored on a wild pitch and Sparks scored on a groundout by Shull, putting Liberty up 3-2. The inning ended with a popup by Thomson.
Heading into the fourth, it appeared clear the game was likely to go the full six innings that the Top Gun sanction considers to be a complete game. In the circle, Sparks got stronger as the game went on and she struck out the side in the top of the fourth to bring the Liberty bats back to the plate. Liberty threatened in the bottom of the fourth but didn’t score, so the game went to the fifth inning with LLXU leading by one . The first Carolina Elite (Foster) player advanced to first on a controversial hit-by-pitch call (the ball hit her hand as she was starting her swing). But whatever hope Carolina Elite had that she would spark a rally for them ended as Eicholtz and Shull connected for their third caught stealing play on the weekend. From there, Sparks struck out the next two batters.
Liberty came to bat in the bottom of the fifthlooking to put the game out of reach because Carolina Elite (Foster) would only get one more chance at the plate unless they tied things up. And did the girls ever succeed. Eicholtz led things off with a fly ball double to right. Sparks followed up with a fading pop to second that advanced Eicholtz to third. Shull laid a perfect bunt down the third base line to load the bases for Thomson, who struck out. But then Curiel hit a hard single to right field, plating Eicholtz and Sparks to put Liberty up 5-2. Saporito stepped in hit an 0-2 pitch deep to right, scoring Shull from third as a sacrifice fly. A hard single by Robinson added a key insurance run by plating Curiel. Liberty took a 7-2 lead into the sixth.
The top of the sixth started well with a routine 4-3 groundout to Dabkowski at second. But then a pair of singles had Carolina Elite (Foster) starting to threaten a rally. Saporito made the second out on a grounder by stepping on third ahead of the runner. But then a Carolina Elite (Foster) hitter hit a ground-ball single to right, scoring two to make the score 7-4 with one out left to record and a runner on. The next batter smoked a line drive that Shull snagged on a jumping play to end the game and seal the championship.
It was the first tournament win for Liberty since April, when the team decided to shift to seeking out new, higher-level competition after winning a half-dozen consecutive tournaments at the B level of play. Over the last six weeks they have played top teams from New Jersey, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Delaware, and North Carolina as they looked to up their game. To travel to the Carolinas and prevail in a tournament featuring three A-level teams from an organization that routinely sends players to top Division 1 college programs was a major accomplishment.
Next up: A series of doubleheaders against 12U teams as Loudoun Liberty prepares to move to the 12U division in September. The next tournament is the Mo’Town Mayhem tournament in Morgantown, West Virginia July 8-10. The 10U season will end July 31 at the North American All-Sanction World Series in Columbus, Ohio.
Tag(s): 10U Liberty