Last year, the Liberty High School softball team bowed out in the state semifinals.
Not this time.
Liberty advanced to a state softball title game for the first time in its history by cruising past Warren County 5-1 in a Class 3 semifinal Thursday at the Moyer Sports Complex in Salem.
“It’s amazing. I’ve dreamed of this my whole life,” winning pitcher Millie Thompson said.
Liberty (21-6), which jumped to a 3-0 lead in the first inning Thursday, will face Turner Ashby (23-4) for the crown at 9 a.m. Friday at Moyer.
“As a senior, I’m playing as far as I can possibly go, and I’m so excited about it,” said Paige Naples, a Randolph recruit who had an RBI single.
“We want [the title] really bad, and we talk about it every night.”
Liberty reached the state tournament for the first time last year but was shut out by Cave Spring in the semifinals.
“Last year we kind of choked, and this year we pushed through and got the win,” said Machenze Flood, who had an RBI single. “We’re just more focused on getting the ring this year.”
Thompson (21-6), a Clemson recruit, pitched a four-hitter. The junior left-hander struck out 10 and walked one.
“My changeup was really effective, and the rise,” she said. “I’ve just been mixing change and rises every pitch. And they’re swinging at them, so I’m going to keep doing it.”
Thompson retired Warren County’s final 11 batters.
“She was left-handed and we haven’t seen that all year,” Wildcats pitcher Elizabeth Keener said.
Thompson also helped Liberty at the plate. She had two hits and two RBIs.
Liberty banged out nine hits off Keener (20-2), who has been dealing with a sore pitching shoulder since midseason.
“Thankfully, being in the Seminole District, we’ve seen a lot of really good pitching,” said Gracie Dooley, a Lynchburg recruit who had two hits and one RBI. “Seeing pitchers like her is something regular to us.”
The state tournament was supposed to conclude last week but was postponed because of rain.
Dooley had been spending this week on the Outer Banks. She and her family cut short their beach vacation and returned home Wednesday.
“It’s worth it,” she said.
Liberty scored three runs in the bottom of the first.
Randolph recruit Taylor Friess singled. Rieley Taylor reached base on a fielder’s choice grounder, with Friess out at second. With two outs, Flood hit an RBI single to left field.
Dooley then had an infield hit, with Flood advancing to third on an error. Thompson had an RBI infield single and Naples had an RBI single to left.
Warren County (21-3) cut the lead to 3-1 in the third on a Ramsey Young single, a walk, a sacrifice bunt and an RBI grounder. But Thompson retired Keener on a popup with a runner on second to escape further damage.
Liberty added two runs in the fifth.
Taylor singled. Ferrum recruit Kacey Whorley reached base on a fielder’s choice grounder, with Taylor safe at second thanks to an error.
With two outs, Dooley had an RBI single to center and Thompson hit an RBI double to center
Thompson pitched out of several jams.
The Wildcats had a runner on second in the first inning, but Thompson struck out Keener to end the threat.
The Front Royal school also had a runner on second in the second inning, but Thompson retired Karleigh Crabill on a grounder to end that threat.
The Wildcats had a runner on second in the fourth, but Thompson retired Crabill on another grounder to end the top half of that inning.
Turner Ashby, whose ace is Winthrop signee Makayla Cyzick, beat Skyline 11-0 in Thursday’s other semifinal.
Thompson pitched a five-hitter to help Liberty beat Turner Ashby 3-0 in the Region 3C final two weeks ago. Liberty also beat Turner Ashby in last year’s regional final.
“We’ve had success against them,” Thompson said. “We know how to play against them, so that’s a plus.”