CHARLESTON, S.C. - Charleston Southern will open conference play on Friday as they welcome Liberty to the CSU Softball Field. First pitch between the Bucs and the Flames is set for 3:00 p.m. on Friday and fans can follow the action via Live Stats on CSUsports.com and in-game updates on Twitter: @CSUGameDay
Liberty opens Friday's conference play with an overall record of 13-12 on the season and a three-game winning streak. The Flames are coming off a 10-0 shutout win over North Carolina A&T on Tuesday after hosting the Liberty Softball Classic last weekend, where the team went 3-2.
Flames at the top of their game
A six-game home stint has sparked the Flames' performance at the plate, with the team combining for a .384 batting average and averaging one home run, three doubles and 8.5 runs per game at Liberty Softball Stadium. The Flames currently lead the Big South with a .317 batting average.
Liberty's Tori Zavodny leads the Big South Conference with a slugging percentage of .818. The junior outfielder is also one of the league's top hitters with a batting average of .432 on the season and was named the Big South Player of the Week on Monday. Last year, Zavodny led the Flames in runs scored, triples, walks (tied), on-base percentage and steals.
Two-time Big South Freshman of the Week, Autumn Bishop, is already leaving her mark on Liberty's program, leading the team and the league in both runs scored (24) and doubles (8). Bishop recorded her first home run last Friday against Rhode Island. The Murrieta, California native has already tied Liberty's program single-game record with two triples on February 12 against Morgan State.
In the Circle
Liberty's pitchers lead the Big South with 124 strikeouts. Julia DiMartino (2-4) is ranked third in the conference with a team-best 2.48 ERA, while Chase Cassady (4-5, 3.1) is ranked second in the league with 51 strikeouts. Kenzie Friesen (4-1) has also recorded four wins on the season with a 3.86 ERA and one shutout.
History with the Flames
Under CSU Head Coach Shane Winkler, the Bucs have gone 12-15 against the Flames. The Bucs were most recently topped by Liberty in their series with the Flames last April at Liberty. CSU split on Saturday and dropped Sunday's game, 2-3, to finish the weekend 1-2. Liberty leads the all-time series against the Bucs, 44-21, and has won the regular-season series, 2-1, for the last two years.
Charleston Southern senior outfielder Stevi Johnson was teammates with Liberty sophomore first baseman Diedra See at El Diamante High School in Visalia, California.
"Steviiii… Stevi Johnson"
Senior Stevi Johnson leads the Buccaneers at the plate with a batting average of .344 and is among the top-10 hitters in the conference.
The Buccaneers are coming off of two weeks in Hawaii, where CSU competed in the Coca-Cola Malihini Kipa Aloha tournament and the Outrigger Resorts Spring Fling. While the Bucs combined for a record of 2-9, this year's seniors unanimously agreed that the tough competition and 10 days of quality time has brought the team closer than ever. CSU closed out Hawaii-play with a grand slam comeback against Marist, as Caitlyn Emberson recorded her second home run of the game to account for seven of the Bucs' nine runs in the 9-6 win last Saturday.
"Going…going…gone!" have become CSU's three favorite words this season. The Buccaneers lead the league with a whopping 32 home runs, more than twice the amount of any other team in the conference. Sophomore Jade Gandara leads the Big South with seven home runs, while teammates Caitlyn Emberson, Brittany McPherson and Mallory Kasinger fill the three, four and five spots in the conference with five home runs on the season. Gandara and Emberson are also among the league's top five sluggers, with Gandara boasting a .653 slugging percentage and Emberson at a solid .650.
Last Time Against Liberty
April 23-24, 2016
Natalie Yonan drilled a bases-loaded double in the nightcap to lead Charleston Southern to the split against Liberty on Saturday night at Kamphuis Field at the Liberty Softball Stadium. The Bucs fell in the opening game in extra innings, 1-0, while taking the nightcap, 5-1. Stevi Johnson had four hits over the two games on Saturday, while Johnson, Jade Gandara and Yonan all connected on doubles in the second game to pace the Bucs (21-28, 9-10) to the split with the Flames.
Charleston Southern was unable to overcome a quick start by the Flames in the series finale as the Buccaneers fell at Kamphuis Field, 3-2. Natalie Yonan went 2-for-3 at the plate to lead the Bucs (21-29, 9-11) offense on the afternoon with the senior third baseman connecting on her eighth double of the season in the loss. Amanda Matsumoto added two hits for the CSU offense. Hayley Elkins (10-21) went the distance in suffering the loss for the Bucs. Elkins allowed five hits and three runs, striking out four over six innings' work. Liberty's Julia DiMartino (14-10) picked up her second win of the weekend with the complete game victory in the circle. The freshman right-hander allowed eight hits and two runs (one earned), while striking out nine in the win.