The Valdosta Daily Times
Valdosta State softball coach Thomas Macera doesn’t fret too much about the Blazers’ offense, and they showed why Tuesday in their home opener at Steel’s Diamond. VSU plated at least five runs in three different innings of its 13-5, 8-5 doubleheader sweep of visiting Flagler.
“Oh, we can hit,” Macera said as his No. 6 Blazers improved to 5-1. “We’ve always been able to hit. That’s never the concern.
“These girls can hit and they put a lot of time into it. That’s one of our strong points is that we have the ability to hit.”
VSU’s offense was held in check early in both games, with the Blazers not scoring until the third in Game 1 and just a lone tally through three innings of Game 2.
However, when the Blazers broke through, they did so in impressive fashion. Trailing 2-0 with just one hit off Flagler ace Kalyn Loverich heading into the third inning of the first game. Then, ninth-place hitter April Collins singled to open the inning and the Blazers caught fire as the Blazers sent 11 hitters to the plate in the frame as they grabbed a 7-2 lead.
Following Collins' hit, Courtney Albritton followed with a towering home run right over the left field foul pole to tie it on an 0-2 pitch. Freshman Chelsea Canara, who earned Gulf South Conference Player of the Week honors after hitting .750 in VSU’s season-opening trip to the West Florida tournament, followed with a solo home run just a few feet to the right of Albritton's blast.
After a walk to Kiley Rusen, who would hit a solo home run with one out in the fourth, Karson King added a two-run home run to left to make it 5-2. Fran Johnson later added an RBI single to left to plate Shelby Altman. Hannah Strickland also scored on the play following a Flagler error.
“A lot of times it takes going through the lineup one time and figuring out that pitcher,” Macera said. “You have to get a little more creative when you’re pitching against batters a second time.”
Added Canara: “It definitely gets exciting when one person gets a hit. When that happens, everybody gets excited and we all just want to be the next one up there.”
Said Rusen: “We all get really hyped when one person gets that RBI or something and it just carries on with everybody. You want to do something more than the person before you to keep it going.”
That same eagerness came three innings later. Leading 8-5, Collins again sparked a big Blazer inning when she reached on the 2-4 Saints’ second error. Albritton plated her with a double and then scored on a Rusen single. Two batters later, Altman ended it with a three-run shot just below the scoreboard.
It was the Blazers’ fifth home run, all by different players. VSU ended the day with seven blasts by six players.
The first Blazer home run of Game 2 came from Strickland in the second inning as she pulled VSU within 2-1. Two innings later, though, is when the Blazer bats heated up once again.
VSU, which now trailed 3-1 following a home run from Mackenzie Conley in the top of the fourth, answered back in the home half as the bottom of the lineup again provided the spark.
“We’ve been doing it all year, even though this is just our sixth game,” Macera said. “This team, the entire team has really been hitting the ball.”
Johnson walked and then scored when Collins reached on a bunt single and the errant Flagler throw sailed into right field. Albritton drew one of her three walks in the game and Canara followed with an RBI single to tie it. Rusen then unleashed her second home run of the day, a three-run shot just to the left of the scoreboard to give VSU a 6-3 lead.
“We’ve been working on a new hitting technique this past month and it’s finally clicked with me,” Rusen said. “It’s the new hitting technique pretty much, and coach Macera’s smarts is pretty much it.
“And the Wheaties for breakfast.”
The Blazers tacked on two more runs in the sixth as Johnson doubled in two runs off Flagler shortstop Christen Moon’s glove. The Saints got two more runs in the seventh as Maddy Murhpy hit a pinch-hit two-run home run off Rebekah Kiser, who went the distance and allowed three earned runs.
“I was real excited that she finished the game,” Rusen said. “The weekend, she had a rough time but she had a new mindset yesterday when she was practicing and it was good to see her finish the game today and shut them down.”
Added Macera: “She kept us in the game and that’s all we can ask for.
“She had a rough inning there, and there was a close play there and if we make that play, they don’t score a run right there. It went against us, and you move on.”