Q: There was a moment you weren’t sure Liberty would perform well in the postseason. Why?

A: The span where we lost three in a row, that was probably when it hit me that this might not be the year that I expected. It was very heartbreaking because I feel like I put in a lot of work in the offseason, and so did a lot of my teammates. In that week it hit me: “I’ve worked this hard, and this week is what maybe completely turns our season around in a negative way.” But I felt like we handled it well. We got some success out of it. Those losses allowed us to handle the games that were closer and nerve- racking.

Q: You also fought through some sickness this season, right?

A: I’m probably one of the sickest people ever. I get sick all the time. I always have bronchitis and always have a double ear infection. I just got over that, actually. Now we’re looking at getting tubes in my ears. I always have a cold. It’s tough to feel that way all the time. But it’s kind of normal to me, I guess.

Q: This Liberty team was so animated. Was there a lot of excitement, knowing you guys had the ability to win it all?

A: I think just in general our chemistry is so ecstatic. We always have a good time together. I think that comes from our being so close and really knowing each other. Having that fire, that took us even further than skills. When you’re playing in the middle of June and it’s summertime, it’s hard to have fun. You love softball, but you’ve been playing since February. But I think us just wanting to be there set us apart.

Q: You had an awesome sophomore season, but in what ways do you think you improved as a junior?

A: I would say mentally I improved, but it was also a roller coaster. I improved in the postseason. Mentally, at first, was tough for me. I’d been lifting in the offseason. But [once the season started] I was so tight I didn’t know how to use my body. I lost some speed. I expected to get stronger and be how I’ve always been, and that just wasn’t the case at the beginning of the year. It took a few weeks, even a month, to figure it out. Eventually, I did. And my riseball, it saved my butt in so many situations in the postseason.

Q: Yeah, that riseball — what’s the difference between how you throw that and how you throw your go-to pitch, the changeup? Does the combination help keep hitters off balance?

A: I feel like one of the strong suits I have as a pitcher — and I feel like not many people know how to do, and that I do really well — is that I do not change my body at all between a rise and a change. I keep the same delivery. It’s all about spin, not actually slowing your body down. A lot of people slow down. Me being able to do the same motion with both of them is definitely harder for the batter to pick up.

Q: Talk about the postseason. You went 9-0 with a 0.84 ERA and 84 strikeouts and even hit .407 in nine games. Where did that determination come from?

A: Honestly, being put on second team all-[Seminole] district lit a fire under me a little bit. I didn’t feel like that was right. It made me angry. I wasn’t proving anyone wrong, but that just kind of nipped me. Like, “Maybe I need to show people I’m not a second-team all-district kid.” That was my motivation at the beginning [of the postseason]. But we just kept working, and it turned out so well.

Q: And at the championship game, you guys overcame five team errors. What were you thinking during the first few rough innings?

A: It scared me a little bit. I felt sorry for [shortstop] Rieley [Taylor]. It wasn’t about me or how I felt. It was about how she felt. That’s tough, and you can’t think about yourself, just about her and what she’s going through. And I only had four strikeouts that game, so I couldn’t really complain. But I knew we can’t play like this and win. Then when Kacey [Whorley] started getting all those breakout hits, I knew we’d be fine. She did a good job of bringing us in and keeping us calm. That kind of set the mood. It made everybody know we were there for each other.

Q: You allowed just two hits in that game. What was working well?

A: I kept the changeups low in the dirt and riseballs up for them to pop up. You’ve got to hit your spots. So it wasn’t so much a certain pitch as it was being a defensive pitcher. I really had to think about where I needed to put this before I threw it. That’s very tough in that environment. When I pitch, I see a blue line in my mind, and I draw it from there to where I’m gonna throw the ball, where it’s gonna end up.

Q: How important do you think winning the first girls state title in Liberty history is to the school and the community?

A: I think it’s super important for our community. Where I’ve grown up and live, it’s a great place to live, but I feel as if it’s not always about supporting each other. I have so many supporters and I’m grateful for them. But as a culture, it’s more like a bunch of crabs in a bucket type of mentality. This was something to show that where we come from, we can do great things here, work hard and have success in a small town.

Q: What did this season teach you?

A: I’d say just never stop believing in yourself. I’m a very realistic person, so sometimes that’s hard for me. I think of all the things that might happen. Like, I thought we weren’t gonna have such a great season. Well, it was the best season we’ve ever had in history. So just keeping that focus, because no matter the negative things that happen, you’ve got to just keep working.

Q: What’s your favorite softball cheer?

A: I don’t know. There are different noises that I think are funny. But I definitely do have a favorite prop: a red, white and blue cowboy hat with sparkles. And I have a miniature one, too.

Q: So next year will be your senior year. Any predictions for Liberty softball?

A: I haven’t really thought about it yet. This win has not really sunk in to me yet. I think we’ll be successful, but it’s not gonna be easy, either. I could pitch well and we could hit well and still go .500 in this district. We’ve lost five seniors, and we had a young JV, so it’s gonna be more of a teaching year.

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Ben Cates covers high school sports for The News & Advance. Reach him at (434) 385-5527. 

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