An injury to catcher Flores results in changes in lineup

After suffering some setbacks over the past couple of weeks, Liberty appears to be back on track.

The Falcons posted yet another win against a well-regarded 6A squad on Monday, when they knocked off Barlow of Gresham, 6-2.

“I felt like we really played quality softball from start to finish in all phases of the game (Monday): pitching, catching, defense, offense, base running” Liberty coach Nolan Meeuwsen said. “I mean, we were just really clicking on all cylinders. That was great to see.”by: HILLSBORO TRIBUNE PHOTO: CHASE ALLGOOD - Nicole Katyryniuk has taken over the right field position and become Liberty's No. 2 batter after an injury to catcher Alex Flores.

The Falcons jumped out to an early lead against the Bruins – seventh in the Class 6A OSAA rankings as of Wednesday afternoon – and never trailed, thanks in part to a solid pitching performance by Ashley Driscoll. The squad continued its momentum on Tuesday by rolling to an 18-1 victory against Parkrose in five innings to open Northwest Oregon Conference play.

The wins have come on the heels of some early-season adversity.

Flying high after a 3-1 start, the squad dropped a 10-0 decision to Jesuit on March 21. The next day, Meeuwsen found out that senior all-star catcher Alex Flores had sustained a stress fracture to her left foot. Flores suffered the same injury to her right foot last year as she was transitioning from basketball to softball. She returned late in the season for Liberty, which advanced to the Class 5A quarterfinals.

“I really don’t expect to see her back, and if we do, then it’s a bonus,” Meeuwsen said.

Flores’ unexpected absence left Liberty needing to make some adjustments, which showed when the Falcons went 2-2 in last week’s North Medford Spring Break Invitational. The team opened the tourney by turning back South Medford, 10-5, before 11-0 and 11-6 losses to Metro League rivals Aloha and Westview, respectively. An 11-0 win against Sheldon did end the tournament on a positive note.

“The four games in Medford, I think more than anything else, exposed some areas that we need to work on,” Meeuwsen explained. “We had a great practice on Saturday. All the kids were there on Easter weekend. … They were there for 2½ hours and we worked on some pretty technical things to make sure we close the gap in some areas where it was obvious we had some during the span in Medford.

“One game does not a season make — but by all appearances tonight it looks like we have a much better idea of what we want to do defensively.”

On defense, Paige Smotherman moves over from third base to catcher. She made the exact same move in the wake of Flores’ injury last year and performed beautifully, winning first team all-conference and honorable mention all-state honors.

“She looks like she’s been back there a hundred years,” Meeuwsen observed. “She looks comfortable and controlled the (Barlow) game, throwing the kids out, throwing pick-off plays.”

Chandie Perez has moved from right field to third base, while Nicole Katyryniuk has come off the bench to play right field.

“You hate to see a kid that’s worked this hard and likes the game this much having to sit out … now again her senior year,” Meeuwsen said about Flores. “That’s tougher to see than not having her in my lineup because of production purposes. But it’s great to see kids come off the bench and fill the hole. One through nine, we’re still pretty dangerous. Anything can happen.”

And anything did on Monday, when Kelly Meeuwsen and Kylie Wruble were lights-out at the plate. Meeuwsen went 4 for 4 with four RBIs and scored on a passed ball in the first inning to stake the Falcons to a 1-0 lead. She scored that run after advancing to second on Katyryniuk’s sacrifice bunt and stealing third. Wruble was 3 for 3, had an RBI and scored two runs.

On the mound, Driscoll yielded seven hits and just one walk while striking out six.

“Of the batters she faced … she had 19 first-pitch strikes, so she was working ahead in the count,” Meeuwsen said. “And that just takes a lot of pressure off the defense when she can pitch like that.”

In the Parkrose game — which was originally scheduled for Friday but was moved up due to a forecast of rain — Liberty put up 10 runs in the first inning to build an insurmountable advantage. Brittany Giesbers recorded four hits in as many tries, scored three runs and added two RBIs. Kelly Meeuwsen added three hits, three runs scored and four RBIs, and Perez notched two hits, three RBIs and a run scored.

The team had one final non-conference game slated for Wednesday against Hermiston (after press deadline) and is scheduled to be off after that until Tuesday’s game at St. Helens. That contest has the makings of an early-conference play showdown. The Lions have beaten several Class 6A teams and took 6A No. 1 Glencoe to extra innings before falling, 3-2.

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