BOILING SPRINGS – Gardner-Webb begins a key, three-game Big South Conference softball series on Friday, hosting first-place Liberty at 5:00 pm at Brinkley Softball Stadium.
The Runnin' Bulldogs (12-25, 5-7 Big South) enter the weekend tied for sixth in the league standings, with a sweep of third-place Winthrop under their belts.
Liberty (28-16, 10-2 Big South) is riding a nine-game win streak – and has allowed just one run in its last seven games combined, including a pair of shutouts of ACC foe Virginia during midweek action.
Gardner-Webb has been led this season at the plate by freshman first baseman Alia Booth, who leads the team with a .336 batting average. Booth also paces the team in RBI (25), home runs (3) and triples (4) through 36 starts.
Her slugging percentage (.533) and on base percentage (.413) numbers also pace the squad.
The Runnin' Bulldogs have gotten solid play in the leadoff spot from sophomore Kaylee Wacaster, who has scored a team-high 20 runs to go with a .265 average. She also paces the team in stolen bases (5) and doubles (7) – and has a team-high three outfield assists so far.
Veteran pitchers Mackenzie Thompson, Summer Darnell and Ashley Wark lead the team's staff workload in the circle, with Wark also tied for the team lead with a pair of saves. Five different arms have worked in the circle for Gardner-Webb this season.
Liberty enters the weekend ranked first in the league offensively, pacing the circuit with a .323 team batting average – including 63 doubles, 11 triples and 23 home runs. The Flames also rank highly in the circle with the league's second-best team ERA (3.07) and 228 strikeouts in 278.1 innings pitched.
Tori Zavodny (.425), Autumn Bishop (.404) and Amber Bishop (.374) rank in the top five offensively so far in the Big South Conference stats race. Kenzie Friesen (11-1, 1.84 ERA) and Julia Dimartino (10-6, 2.30 ERA) are the top two arms in the conference to date as well.
Friday's game is set for a 5:00 pm first pitch. The two teams will wrap up the series on Saturday afternoon, with a doubleheader set to begin at 1:00 pm.