Liberty's young softball team gets off to a red-hot start with a 10-game win streak

Just 11 games into the season, the Liberty softball team has already put together a 10-game win streak.

Just don’t expect the Falcons to be impressed by it.

“Ten and one, it’s just a number for us,” Ashley Driscoll said after helping her team to a 3-1 win against Newberg on Monday at Hillsboro Stadium. by: HILLSBORO TRIBUNE PHOTO: CHASE ALLGOOD - Liberty freshman Maija Sands lays down a bunt during a nonleague contest against Newberg on Monday. The Falcons won the game, 3-1.

“We’re not focused on it, we’re not thinking about it. When we go out to play a team, all of our focus is on that one team and working together and executing. We don’t think about the number. It’s all about the game.”

Still, for a squad that graduated six seniors last spring and is now starting three freshmen, Liberty has undoubtedly gotten off to a strong start. The Falcons had scored the most runs in Class 5A and sat at No. 3 in the OSAA power rankings as of Wednesday afternoon.

After dropping an 8-3 decision to city rival Glencoe on March 18, the Falcons rattled off 10 wins in a row heading into their final nonleague game of the season Thursday at Lakeridge. The squad’s wins have come against a mix of 4A, 5A and 6A HILLSBORO TRIBUNE PHOTO: CHASE ALLGOOD - Liberty senior Ashley Driscoll delivers a pitch during Monday's victory against Newberg. Driscoll and the Falcons have won 10 games in a row.

While last spring’s turnover left the team entering this season with some question marks, coach Nolan Meeuwsen also knew Liberty had a solid foundation on which to build.

“A couple of things I definitely knew,” noted Meeuwsen, who has steered the Falcons to four straight Class 5A quarterfinals appearances. “I was going to have a senior pitcher in the circle. And Ashley Driscoll, while she might not be an absolute strikeout pitcher, she’s a very knowledgeable pitcher, and she’ll keep us in games and she’ll be around the strike zone. She’ll change speeds and do the things that she does.

“The other thing I knew is that I was going to have a very good infield. And I also knew that that very good infield was also going to be excellent at the plate. And they have been.”

That infield is anchored by, among others, Meeuwsen’s daughter Kelly at shortstop, as well as catcher/third baseman Paige Smotherman. Nolan Meeuwsen said Tuesday that both juniors were hitting above .500, and that several other players were batting above .400.

On Monday, the Falcons’ bats got going in a big way in the bottom of the sixth inning to break a 1-1 stalemate against the Tigers. First Liberty loaded the bases and then punched in runs on consecutive plate appearances by Kelsey Damm and Maija Sands, one of those three freshmen who are already stepping into key roles for the Falcons.

Sands accounted for the game-winning run when she belted a sacrifice fly to center field, which allowed Kelly Meeuwsen plenty of time to tag up and come home. Damm followed with an infield single that scored Smotherman from third, giving the Falcons a 3-1 lead they would not relinquish.

“We had to scratch it out,” said Meeuwsen, who also scored in the first inning on a double by Smotherman. “We didn’t start off very well and we had to string it together.”

Sands has been playing first base for Liberty. The team’s other two rookies, Kelsey Damm and Riley Driscoll, are part of a rapidly improving outfield unit that is benefitting from some coaching from yet another member of the Meeuwsen family in Heather Meeuwsen, a former all-state outfielder at Liberty.

“She’s holding my outfield accountable, and I like that,” Nolan Meeuwsen said. “They’ve come a long ways just in the two weeks that she’s joined us on the coaching staff.”

With the outfield progressing and Meeuwsen at a point where he is focusing on fine-tuning his team, Liberty may be rounding into top form just in time for the start of league play next week. The Falcons open up on the road next Tuesday at Parkrose before welcoming traditional league power St. Helens next Friday.

So with double-digit victories already in hand, Liberty is going to take the success in stride and focus on one game at a time, per Meeuwsen’s philosophy.

“Winning 10 games, that’s a number,” Meeuwsen said. “We haven’t accomplished anything yet.”

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