The Valdosta Daily Times
The road to the national championship in the South Region must come through the home of the defending Division II national champion Valdosta State Blazers.
As expected, the nationally fourth-ranked Blazers were tabbed the top seed in the South Region, as announced through the NCAA website Monday morning, and will host the South Region Tournament this weekend.
The Blazers, who won a record fifth straight Gulf South Conference championship Sunday with a 4-3 win over rival Alabama-Huntsville, will open the South Region Tournament at Steel’s Diamond at Blazer Park Friday evening with a game against No. 8 seed Albany State, set to begin at 7 p.m.
Tampa, the No. 4 seed, and Saint Leo, the No. 5 seed, will also visit Valdosta this weekend for the double-elimination tournament. The two teams will play Friday night at 4:30 p.m.
Alabama-Huntsville is the No. 2 seed in the region and will host the sub-region tournament consisting of No. 3 North Alabama, No. 6 Barry and No. 7 West Alabama.
Rollins, last week’s No. 7 team, was dropped from the field because of the automatic berth awarded to Albany State, last week’s No. 10 seed that won the Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference championship this past weekend.
The Blazers open the tournament Friday against the Golden Rams, whom they’ve met four times this season. The Blazers are a perfect 4-0 this season against the Golden Rams, outscoring them 45-3.
VSU has not played Tampa or Saint Leo this season. Those two teams will meet Friday, and the winner will face either VSU or Albany State, while the losers of the opening Friday games face off in an elimination game Saturday morning.
The winner of the first loser's bracket game Saturday will face the loser of the first winner’s game in the final game Saturday evening, with the only 2-0 team advancing to the championship game Sunday.
The final team with one-loss in the tournament will advance to Sunday, needing to win both games on Sunday to advance to the Super Regional the following weekend.
Saint Leo clinched the Sunshine State Conference championship with a sweep over Florida Southern in late April, the school’s first softball conference championship since 1981.
Tampa finished second in the conference, just a game behind St. Leo.
VSU last played Saint Leo and Tampa in 2012. The Blazers were 1-0 against Tampa, winning 4-1, and a perfect 3-0 against Saint Leo. In the games against Saint Leo, the Blazers won by an average of 4.6 runs per game.
Being at home this weekend for the regional tournament is an advantage for Valdosta State. In two of the last four seasons, when the Blazers have hosted the regional and super regional, they have gone on to play for the national championship.
In the seasons where they were on the road for the regional tournament, they failed to advance past the super regional best-two-out-of-three series.