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Lions roaring once again

April 12, 2001

After two straight seasons of participating in the NAIA National

Tournament, the Vanguard University struggled through a 2000 season and

missed the playoffs entirely.

But now with a healthy No. 1 pitcher and a stable, run-producing

offense, the Lions have been making a lot of noise and are ready for a

serious playoff run.

The key factor to the Vanguard's success has been the offense. In

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their 16 losses, the Lions have scored two runs or less 14 times. In

their 28 wins, the Lions have scored three or more runs 22 times.

While suffering through a 25-30 record last year, Vanguard hit an

un-Lionlike .217 as a team and averaged less than two runs per game.

This year, the Lions' bats are singing a different tune. They're

hitting .270 and have already scored 139 runs, 21 more than all of last

year.

With runs at such a premium in softball, a good leadoff hitter can

make all the difference in the world. That's where Andrea Saucedo comes

into play.

The senior spark plug leads the Lions with a .352 batting average and

has scored a team-high 33 runs. Included in her team-high 51 hits are

nine triples. She also has used her speed to steal 11 bases out of 14

attempts.

With Saucedo on the bases, Nikki Benning plays a number of different

roles in the No. 2 slot.

Benning's 21 RBIs is second on the team, but her most valuable

statistic is her 15 sacrifice bunts, moving runners into scoring position

for teammate Jill Jessen.

Jessen is second on the team with a .343 batting average and her 22

RBIs leads the Lions' attack.

Also making a major contribution on offense is Celina Camarillo, with

a .340 average, five triples and 13 runs scored.

But while the improved runs have been a major asset, one thing is for

sure when it comes to Vanguard's success. It all starts and stops with

pitcher Gina Liebengood. Take last year, for example.

In 2000, Liebengood was 12-3 with a microscopic 0.19 ERA. In 111

innings, she gave up an incredible three earned runs, while striking out

131.

But, against North Dakota State, she broke a bone in her pitching hand

and was lost for the season. VU went 10-18 the rest of the way.

This year, Liebengood's ERA has risen to a whopping 1.08, but her

record is 15-8 and she is, once again, Vanguard's go-to pitcher.

The junior standout has appeared in 33 of 44 games, including 19

starts and 17 complete games. She has struck out 153 over 151 innings of

work.

Alysia Atchley (5-4, 1.79 ERA) and Cheri Smith (4-2, 2.63 ERA) have

also provided quality performances for the Lions, making them more than

just a one-arm team.

Currently, the Lions are in fourth place in the Golden State Athletic

Conference with a 9-7 record. They are also ranked 18th in the NAIA national polls.

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