A case in point was the middle of the third inning of last Friday’s Liberty High softball game hosting Drake High. The Lions had just seen their commanding 5-1 lead in the second inning fade away to near-nothingness as the Pirates fought back with three runs in the top of the third to make it a slim 5-4 lead in favor of Liberty.
Manager Rich Barrios told his players to gather around him just off the third base line and proceeded to fire them up in a voice loud enough to carry throughout the field.
“We need to realize that they came to play,” he told his team. “They should not have four runs. Focus on what we need to do right now. Everybody needs to be talking. Know what we are doing, ladies.”
The pep talk had the effect of firing up his team’s defense, which did not allow the Pirates another run. The Lions went on to win the game 6-4, producing their ninth victory in their first nine games this season – all of them with Shelbie Raposa on the mound.
“That was not one of our better games, but we will take it,” said Barrios afterward. “That was one of those in the category of (required to play) a lot of games in too many days and being mentally fatigued. But we hung in there and got the win, so we will take that.”
Barrios provided three reasons for his team’s remarkable success this season.
“Number one, Shelbie Raposa, our pitcher, has stepped up to a new level and is pitching as well as I have ever seen her focus – her focus is incredible and her determination and leadership has grown tremendously,” he said.
“Secondly, the team had decided that they believe in themselves. As long as they stay focused for seven innings, they have the capability of beating anyone they are playing.
“Thirdly, we have taken advantage of mistakes other teams have made. We are taking advantage of our base runners and generating some runs and doing those things you need to do to be successful.”
The Lions demonstrated their base-running acumen in the first inning with a double-steal of second and third that led to a 2-0 lead after Kim O’Neil singled the runners home. The runners and runs continued in the next inning, scoring three more on two singles, a walk, a sacrifice bunt, a steal and an error.
Aggressive base running was also key to the final score in the sixth. Donelle Martin got on by luring the third baseman in close because Martin slaps at the ball when she’s swinging, and she wound up hitting it just over the fielder’s head, which would have been a sure ground out had the fielder not been playing so far in. Another single and steals by both runners led to Martin scoring on a sacrifice grounder.
Liberty couldn’t ask for a better season thus far. which has included winning the Queen of the Mountain Tournament in Concord.