Liberal softball coach Jason Wilson huddles his team Tuesday during a game against Garden City. The Lady Redskins dropped a double header to the Lady Buffaloes, 14-2 and 19-0. L&T photo/Earl Watt
By EARL WATT
• Leader & Times
Jason Wilson has a simple goal for his Lady Redskins right now, and it is an important one — become a seven-inning team.
Liberal has gone three seasons with a Western Athletic Conference win, and in each of those previous three years, Liberal did not finish seven innings in any of those games.
In the first four WAC games of this season, the Lady Redskins have played two complete games, a sign that the Lady Redskins are making progress.
One of those complete games happened Tuesday at the National Beef Family Sports Complex against Garden City.
Kaleah Chaloupek took the circle for the Lady Redskins and tossed a shutout first inning. It was one of four scoreless inning the Lady Redskins turned in against the Lady Buffaloes.
But the Lady Redskin offense continued to struggle as well against quality pitching by the Lady Buffaloes.
Garden scored two in the second and six in the third to take an 8-0 lead.
Alize Tatum returned to the line-up after suffering a foot injury earlier in the season and hit a double fourth and a two-RBI single in the sixth to cut Garden City’s lead to 8-2.
But the Lad Buffaloes were able to add six runs in the seventh, and the Lady Redskins couldn’t push another runner across the plate in a 14-2 loss.
The Lady Redskins couldn’t maintain any momentum in Game 2 and fell behind early, giving up 12 runs in the first inning.
Garden City pounded the ball up the middle and also took advantage of Lady Redskin miscues to jump out to the big lead.
The Lady Redskins never recovered, and after the Lady Buffaloes added seven more runs in the second inning to take a 19-0 lead, Liberal couldn’t respond in the second or third, and the game ended by run rule.
“We competed in that first game for seven innings,” Wilson said. “That’s what we’ve talked about all year is being seven-inning competitors — not worrying about who we’re playing or what the other jersey says but competing for seven innings and getting better.”
Liberal struggled to reach base, and Wilson said that creates a more difficult situation.
“It’s tough when you don’t put the ball in play and let the opposing pitcher strike you out, and you don’t make any of the eight other girls make any plays,” he said. “But I thought we did a better job as the game went along, getting on top of some pitches, working the count to our advantage and getting the ball in play. They are a good team. That’s why they are at the top of the Western Athletic Conference.”
But for the first time in more than three years, Liberal made Garden City play all seven innings in the opener.
“Hopefully, the first game, you gave them an idea what they will see when they play Liberal,” Wilson said. “They won’t be able to overlook us.”
Game 2 started slopy and never improved.
“In the second game, we let it get away early,” Wilson said. “Too many errors, and it snowballed. It’s tough when you shoot yourself in the foot.”
The highlight of the day was Tatum’s double and two RBIs after missing five games with an injury.
“It’s been a tough five-game stretch without her in the line-up,” Wilson said. “She did a good job doing what she does. She put the ball in play, got the runners that were on back to home plate, and she is a senior. She has been here for four years, she knows what she’s got to do. It’s a matter of stepping up like she did today.”
As the rebuilding continues Wilson understands that without a competitive softball program in Liberal for his players when they were young, he will have to try to make up for the lack of experience.
“The kids are doing what we want them to do,” he said. “We have a lot of young kids out there playing for us. There are going to be learning pains. When they didn’t have the 8- to 14-year-old softball, there are a lot of years we are trying to overcome in four months. They will continue to get better as the season progresses. It is April 18. State isn’t until May 25. As long as we are playing our best ball then, that’s what matters.”