INDEPENDENCE — Albeit a nerve-wracking finish, the Liberty softball team held on for a 4-3 season-opening victory over Smithville Friday, Aug. 30 in pool play of the Kansas City Suburban Invitational at Adair Park.
With the win, the Blue Jays successfully unlocked their first goal of the new season.
“It was nice to win the first game of the season,” Liberty sophomore shortstop Sydney Malott said. “Our goal is to win the first one and the last one.”
The Blue Jays held off the Warriors in the sixth and final inning, as Smithville scored once in the frame and stranded the tying run on third base. Liberty reliever Lauren Slocum registered two strikeouts before getting Smithville’s Rylee Robinette to ground out on a 2-2 count and put an end to the threat.
“I was happy with the way we played,” Smithville coach Steve Tingler said. “We made a couple of early mistakes on defense and a couple times we just didn’t have the ball bounce our way. We had a lot of baserunners but we just didn’t get the big hit.”
Malott hit a two-run double to put the Blue Jays in the lead in the top of the first inning. Ashton Maloney and Marra Cramer scored on the play after both of them singled.
“I went up there just trying to get a base hit and not trying to do too much,” Malott said. “I was focused on getting those runners across the plate.”
The Warriors trimmed the lead to 2-1 in the second on a Riley Hoard RBI groundout, scoring Kali Long, who walked to lead off the frame. Adi Callahan doubled to put Long in scoring position.
But the Blue Jays tacked on a pair of runs in the fourth to extend the lead to 4-1, thanks to an Amayiah Hall RBI groundout that plated Olivia Branstetter, who led off the inning with a single and advanced on an error and a Kayla Shelton sacrifice bunt.
Liberty starting pitcher Brooke Niemeier kept the Warriors’ offense off balance, allowing just five hits and striking out two batters through five complete innings.
“Overall, good,” Howard said of Niemeier’s outing. “I thought she was strong.”
Maloney finished 3-for-3 with a double and two singles, while Niemeier doubled.
“To make that happen and do a lot of good things throughout the game was really good for us,” Blue Jays coach Scott Howard said. “For the first live game I felt really good with a lot of what we did.”
Annie Postlewait collected two singles as Smithville’s lone multi-hit performer. Makaela Carr allowed seven hits across four innings before giving way to reliever Korbin Harris, who sat down the Blue Jays in order and had two punchouts for the final two innings.
Liberty finished the tournament with a 4-1 record, taking fifth place in the Gold Bracket.
Smithville later handled Truman 16-2 in four innings, as the Warriors wrapped 13 hits, with Lizzy Palmer collecting three hits. Pitcher Haley Cotter gave up two unearned runs and struck out four.
The Warriors went 1-2 on Saturday, Aug. 31. Smithville topped Lee’s Summit 3-2, but fell to Grain Valley 14-8 and Oak Grove 9-6.
Against Lee’s Summit, Cotter earned the win in the circle, going six innings while recording four strikeouts. Aidan Robinson had two hits and drove in three runs for Smithville.
In other action, Kearney opened its season with a 3-2 showing in the tourney. Katie Blodgett tossed a three-inning no-hitter in the run-rule shutout victory over Harrisonville, while Lillie Filger also produced a 3-for-3 day with three RBI.
On Friday, Aug. 30, the Bulldogs registered a 4-3 win against St. Teresa’s and a 15-0 win over Harrisonville. The next day, Kearney suffered a 7-0 loss to Park Hill, and an 11-1 loss to Warsaw before closing the weekend with an 8-6 victory over Lee’s Summit North.
Kearney and Smithville are scheduled to face off at 5 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 10 in Smithville.
Liberty returns to action at St. Joseph Central, at 4 p.m. in St. Joseph.