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Liberty softball's season comes to an end in Durham Regional

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DURHAM, N.C. — Emily Kirby handed the ball over to Megan Johnson for the final time early Sunday morning. She began running off the field before slowing down and acknowledging the Liberty fans who were serenading her with applause. Kirby waved to the crowd before disappearing into the dugout.

A gutsy effort came to a close. Kirby’s career in Liberty’s red, white and blue, highlighted by two seasons as the ASUN Conference’s top pitcher, concluded.

Georgia took advantage of seeing Kirby for the second time in a 36-hour span by finally getting into the scoring column. The runs kept coming as the Bulldogs eliminated Liberty from the Durham Regional with a 7-2 triumph that ended at 1:48 a.m. Sunday at Duke Softball Stadium.

The Flames (44-18) were denied advancing to a regional final for the second consecutive season. It marked the first time under Dot Richardson that they did not make a regional final when playing in the NCAA Tournament.

The Bulldogs (42-17) have a quick turnaround by playing host Duke at 2 p.m. Sunday in the regional final. The Blue Devils are undefeated in regional play.

Kirby was electric in Friday’s 2-0 win over Georgia. She scattered three hits and struck out 13 in the 135-pitch complete-game victory.

She threw 126 pitches starting with Saturday’s 11:15 p.m. first pitch and into Sunday morning, but the Bulldogs this time produced runs.

It started in the first inning as Sara Mosley reached on a one-out single and advanced to second on a groundout. Sydney Kuma drew a full-count walk and Lyndi Rae Davis followed by dropping a 1-2 offering from Kirby into shallow left field that scored Mosley for a 1-0 lead.

Kirby kept the deficit at one run until the third when the Bulldogs, who hammered four homers in an elimination game victory over UMBC earlier Saturday evening, used the long ball to extend the advantage.

Mosley led off with a single and scored on Kuma’s no-doubt, two-run homer to right field.

That marked Georgia’s 106th homer of the season.

Georgia starter Madison Kerpics, who took the loss in Friday’s game and picked up the save over UMBC, was stellar to close Friday’s game and opened the late Saturday matchup the same way.

She retired the first eight batters she faced. Paige Bachman was Liberty’s first base runner when she drew a six-pitch walk, and that set the table for Devyn Howard.

Howard connected on a 2-1 offering for a two-run homer that easily cleared the scoreboard in left-center field. It cut the deficit to 3-2.

Kirby posted a perfect frame in the fourth to mark the first clean inning of the game and her first against Georgia in the regional.

Jaiden Fields drew a bases-loaded walk with two outs in the fifth to extend Georgia’s lead to 4-2.

Caroline Hudson recorded the Flames’ second hit of the game with a leadoff single in the sixth, but Kara Canetto grounded into a 4-3 double play to end the threat.

Georgia added three insurance runs in the seventh on Davis’ RBI single and Fields’ two-run single.

Kerpics (19-10) struck out eight and walked five in the complete-game victory.

Mosley had three hits and Fields drove in three runs.

Kirby (14-7) allowed seven runs (six earned) on nine hits and three walks. She struck out two over 6 ⅓ innings.

Megan Johnson allowed two inherited runners to score on Fields’ single and did not allow any other runs to score in recording the final two outs.

Georgia went 0 for 8 with runners in scoring position in Friday’s loss. The Bulldogs were 4 of 10 in those situations against the Flames in the elimination game.

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