The Valdosta Daily Times
An error on a routine ground ball to first base cost the Valdosta State softball team a chance to sweep conference newcomer Shorter on Sunday.
With the second game of the scheduled doubleheader tied at 0-0 in the third inning, Blazer first baseman Kiley Rusen botched a routine grounder and extended the inning for the Hawks, who went on to score three unearned runs and secure the 3-0 victory over the second-ranked Blazers.
Valdosta State (23-6) was trying for a sweep after winning game one, 5-1.
If not for Rusen’s error, the Hawks (22-4) would have never scored the runs in the inning and the teams would have probably gone on to play extra innings with the game scoreless. But the error counted, and the Hawks, the reigning NAIA national champions, made the Blazers, the reigning NCAA Division II national champions, pay for their mistake.
“We should still be playing ball (in game two),” Macera said. “It should be 0-0. We had an error in one inning and it cost us three runs — an error with two outs. You can’t make those mistakes in close games. If you want to win that game, you have to play clean ball.”
After managing eight hits in their game one victory, the Blazers struggled at the plate in game two against Shorter pitcher Christina Ezell. They managed just three hits, two of which came in the fourth inning. Both base runners were left stranded on base.
“We had chances, though; we had runners on base at first and second with nobody out,” Macera said. “We just didn’t play very fundamental ball. We had chances. We had as many chances as they had. If you take away our one error, they had two hits behind that, then we both had three hits.”
Freshman Hanna Lythberg, the game two pitcher, pitched well enough to win for the Blazers, said Macera. Lythberg allowed just five hits and struck out three, along with the three unearned runs.
“We just didn’t play well enough defense behind her in one inning,” Macera said. “One inning cost us.”
In game one, the Blazers used a pair of Courtney Albritton home runs — giving her four on the weekend and 14 on the season — to beat the Hawks 5-1.
Once again, much like Saturday, the first inning proved to be the Blazers’ most productive inning of game one. They scored three runs in the inning, using three straight singles to get their runners on base.
Albritton, Morgan Johnson and Shelby Altman each singled, with Altman’s hit scoring Albritton. Then Ashley Steinhilber grounded into a fielder’s choice, scoring Johnson on a close play at home plate, and Rusen grounded to first to score Altman.
Albritton homered in the second inning, giving the Blazers a 4-0 lead. She homered again in the fourth inning to push the Blazers’ lead to 5-1.
“She (Albritton) hit very well in the first game and then they figured her out and shut her out in the second game,” Macera said.
Shorter got its run on a home run in the third inning.
VSU starter Brianna Hancock earned a win for the second consecutive day, allowing the one home run on five hits, while striking out two and walking two. Kenzi Reed replaced Hancock in the seventh inning, after she loaded the bases. Reed earned the save after inducing a line drive back to the pitching circle.
The Blazers did receive some key contributions defensively from third baseman Hannah Strickland. After being hit in the eye on a grounder during practice this past week, Strickland was forced to miss Saturday’s doubleheader, but was able to return Sunday.
Her presence was felt, as she made multiple great plays at third base, including a throw to first base while sitting and a pair of double plays.
“She made amazing plays,” Macera said. “We know how good Hannah is. Hannah is just a great defensive player. We are happy to see her back, and she showed why we are happy to have her back.”