The Valdosta Daily Times
SALEM, VA. —
Valdosta State softball’s bid for a national title repeat came up short this season.
The Blazers were eliminated from the NCAA Division II National Championship Tournament Saturday with a 7-5 loss in nine innings to Armstrong Atlantic University, a school based off the Georgia coast in Savannah.
With the Blazers trailing 5-4 in the bottom of the seventh inning, Courtney Albritton delivered a game tying RBI double to score Fran Johnson, who led the half inning off with a bunt single and advanced on a sacrifice bunt by Hannah Strickland.
The score remained tied at 5-5 until Armstrong left fielder Andrea Dalton delivered a two-out, two-run home run to left field in the top of the ninth, lifting the Lady Pirates past the Blazers.
Valdosta State was unable to answer in the bottom of the ninth inning, going in 1-2-3 fashion, officially closing the door on Blazer athletics for the 2012-13 season.
The contest saw plenty of action early as the Lady Pirates scored two runs in the top half of the first inning.
Shelby Duff, who went 2-for-4 on the day with two RBI and two runs scored, led the game off with a walk.
In the following at bat, Peyton Roth laid down a sacrifice bunt attempt that resulted in a single after some miscommunication by the Blazer infield.
Alexis Mercer proceeded to drop a sacrifice down to move both runners into scoring position, setting the table for Dalton, who earned two of her four RBI’s with a check swing that connected and dropped into left field.
The Blazers answered in the bottom of the first with a three-run inning, sparked by a Shelby Altman double with Morgan Johnson aboard after a one-out walk.
With Altman and Johnson on second and third, senior Ashley Steinhilber ripped one back through the box to drive in two and advance to second on the throw to the plate from center.
Lindsey Hamlin delivered another single up the middle to bring in Steinhilber from second and give the Blazers a 3-2 lead.
Armstrong Atlantic continued the offensive surge in the top of the second with an RBI double by Duff with pinch runner Bethany Wilke aboard to tie the game 3-3.
Wilke pinch-ran for Haley Ellis, who walked earlier in the inning with one away. Duff's double was her 17th of the season, tying a single-season doubles record for the Lady Pirate softball program.
In the fourth, Heather Ellis reached on a walk to leadoff the inning and advanced to second on a sacrifice bunt by Haley Ellis. An illegal pitch was charged to Brianna Hancock during the next at bat, and one out later, the Lady Pirates put together three consecutive singles to score two runs and take a 5-3 lead.
Steinhilber led off the following half inning with a double to right center, and was plated by her fellow senior Sarah Vaughn two outs later to bring the Blazers back to within one.
Hanna Lythberg came into the game to pitch in the fifth and held the Lady Pirates scoreless for the next three innings,
setting the Blazers up for their comeback in the bottom half of the seventh.
After the game tying double by Albritton, Morgan Johnson singled to center to place runners on the corners.
Armstrong Atlantic elected to pitch around Altman, and Megan Barnwell struck out Steinhilber in the next at bat on a borderline pitch over the inside corner for out number two. Barnwell induced a groundout from Hamlin in the next at bat to end the threat by the Blazers.
Lythberg continued to pitch well for VSU, but allowed her third hit of the day in the ninth inning, which was the deciding blow over the left field wall off the bat of Dalton.
The loss concludes a 46-13 season for Valdosta State, while Armstrong Atlantic improved to 43-9 overall with the win.