The Valdosta Daily Times
After an error on a routine fly ball to right field proved to be costly in game one of Sunday’s doubleheader against North Alabama, the top-ranked Valdosta State softball team bounced back to avoid being swept in a doubleheader for the first time since April 2011.
After blowing a two-run lead and losing game one 4-2, the Blazers used a massive fourth inning in game two to secure a 6-2 win.
Valdosta State finished the weekend 3-1, and is now 16-3 overall.
“We played well enough to win two games,” Valdosta State head coach Thomas Macera said. “We have to make routine plays. If we make routine plays, we win two games.”
A costly error in right field by sophomore Fran Johnson allowed North Alabama to erect a four-run sixth inning and beat the Blazers in game one.
The error kept alive the Lions’ inning, and enabled them to score four unearned runs against VSU starter Brianna Hancock, who, despite taking the loss, was considerably improved from a shaky performance Saturday.
UNA started the sixth inning with a single, a strikeout and another single. Then Johnson misplayed a fly ball. The Lions scored one run on the play, and had a pair of runners on base with one out. After a walk and an RBI ground out, UNA’s Ashley Bonner delivered a two-run single that made the score 4-2.
Valdosta State had chances in the bottom half of the final two innings, but couldn’t score the necessary runners. In the bottom of the sixth inning, the Blazers received a pair of one-out singles from Morgan Johnson and Shelby Altman, but left them stranded.
In the seventh inning, Kiley Rusen earned a two-out walk, followed by a Hannah Strickland single. Then Angela O’Connor singled and Macera sent Rusen home, but the throw from UNA left fielder Callie Steadman was on point, and she was tagged out at home for the final out of the game.
“It was a slow roller, and I should not have sent her,” Macera said. “Any other runner is probably safe, and that is my fault. I know how fast my kid is, but it took the (left fielder) a long time to pick the ball up, and I thought we had it.”
The Blazers’ two runs in the game came in the fifth inning. Karson King hit a solo home run, her second in as many days. Then Rusen connected on a two-out double to score Ashley Steinhilber.
In game two, Valdosta State fell into a 1-0 hole after a solo home run by North Alabama in the third inning. But a massive five-run fifth inning propelled the Blazers ahead for good.
The Blazers started the inning with four straight singles, topped off by Tiffany Atkinson’s hit that scored Sarah Vaughn. Two at-bats later, Morgan Johnson roped a two-out, three-run double that made the score 5-1.
Johnson scored a few pitches later on a Shelby Altman double.
“We are not going to lay down,” Macera said. “The girls are going to scrap. We just made some unfortunate blunders in the first game, and you just have to move on. They are good at moving on. If they sit there and keep reliving the first game, you would never get off the carpet.”
UNA capped the scoring in the sixth inning, getting one run off of VSU starter Kenzi Reed (6-1).
Reed allowed just two runs on five hits, despite recording just one strikeout. Hancock, who took the game one loss, allowed just one earned run on eight hits and struck out seven.
After the game, Macera was pleased with his pitching, a day after telling the pitchers they needed to improve in the circle.
“Our pitchers absolutely pitched very well today,” Macera said. “We should have won game one 2-0. (Brianna) pitched very well. It is the best Bri has pitched all year, and she deserved the win. We made some mistakes, and we can’t make those mistakes.”
Albritton injured, expected to return
Less than an inning into Sunday’s doubleheader, the Blazers lost All-American sophomore Courtney Albritton.
After a collision at second base with Lions leadoff batter Harlie Barkley, who was attempting to steal second base, Albritton (the Blazers’ shortstop) left the game and received six stitches to the forehead.
On the play at second base, Albritton’s head was gashed open by the bill of Barkley’s helmet. She walked off the field on her own power, but was taken from the stadium to receive stitches. Upon her return to the dugout, Albritton watched the remainder of the doubleheader from the steps of the dugout with a hood over her head.
After the game, Macera said Albritton did not have any concussion symptoms, but the medical personnel worried she might, and her return was unknown. Later Sunday evening, Albritton said over Twitter that she expected to be back at practice with the team today, and hopefully back in the lineup Wednesday at West Florida.
Regardless, the Blazers missed the production of Albritton, who has seven home runs through the first 18 games this season. Her game one replacement, Angela O’Connor, was just 1 for 4 at the plate. In the second game, Macera shifted his entire lineup forward, making Morgan Johnson, who usually bats second behind Albritton, the leadoff batter.
“(Albritton) is the best hitter in Division II softball,” Macera said. “She is solid on defense, and you take that stick out of the lineup and it is tough. It is a team sport, and you have to find other ways to win now.”
Notes: Shelby Altman was the only Blazer to record multiple hits in each game. She finished 2 for 3 in each contest. … With her three RBIs Sunday, Morgan Johnson finished the weekend with a team-high six RBIs. … King hit a team-high two home runs this weekend. She has hit three home runs in the past eight days. … The Blazers visit West Florida Wednesday and West Alabama Saturday, before visiting Alabama-Huntsville Sunday. They return home March 16 against West Georgia.