The Valdosta Daily Times
On a weekend when heavy rain and winter storms delayed or cancelled nearly every outdoor sporting event in South Georgia, it was only fitting that Mother Nature got the final say Sunday night at the Holiday Inn Classic at Blazer Park.
Attempting to make up a game that had been rained out Saturday evening, the Valdosta State softball team got three innings into its game with Lander Sunday evening before intense lightning moving into the area forced coaches and game officials to cancel the remaining innings.
Such a move means the game, which was tied 2-2, won’t count be officially scored and is ruled a no contest.
While the lightning affected Sunday evening’s game, the Blazers’ bats were lightning quick and strong in their victories earlier in the day on Sunday. The top-ranked Blazers bounced back from an embarrassing loss to Northwood Saturday morning and pounded out 22 combined hits in their two victories Sunday.
The Blazers used 13 hits, including an inside-the-park home run from senior Ashley Steinhilber, to down the Lander Bearcats 6-1, before pounding out nine hits, including a pair of two-run homers, to beat Northwood 8-4 Sunday afternoon.
“We played a lot better,” Valdosta State head coach Thomas Macera said. “The pitchers did a better job today and we just played better today. We had some adversity in the games and that is good. We had to fight. Close games and that is what we need. We pitched and played defense so much better today.”
Steinhilber finished the weekend 8 of 11 at the plate, including a 5 of 8 performance on Sunday that featured two runs scored and an RBI.
Third baseman Hannah Strickland finished Sunday 4 of 6 with two runs scored and two RBIs, while Karson King and Morgan Johnson were each 3 of 7 at the plate, although it was King that drove in three runs between the two wins.
“(Steinhilber) could always hit,” Macera said. “She has always been a streaky hitter. But she hit one foul tonight that hasn’t landed yet. She can hit and she put a great weekend together.”
In the circle, Kenzi Reed, Caitlyn Calhoun and Hanna Lythberg all pitched for the Blazers. Reed and Lythberg were the winning pitchers, while Calhoun earned the save in both contests.
With the pair of victories, the Blazers finished the weather-delayed tournament with a 2-1 record and are now 13-2 overall. They open Gulf South Conference play next weekend with a pair of games against Union and North Alabama.
“Everybody always wishes they had more time when you have a young team but we have grown up in the last 13 or 14 games,” Macera said. “So we have grown and that is why we have to keep playing. That is why we were willing to play that third game today, just to get on the field.”
In game one, the Blazers racked up 13 total hits, as every Blazer batter safely hit in the 6-1 win over Lander. The Blazers got a pair of runs in the third inning, before adding another in the fourth and three more in the fifth inning.
A single by King and a sacrifice fly by Lindsey Hamlin scored Morgan Johnson and Shelby Altman in the third inning, giving VSU a 2-0 lead.
After Lander got a run in the fourth inning, a Courtney Albritton double scored Fran Johnson from first base in the bottom half of the inning. Johnson, who celebrated her birthday on Sunday, had reached base on a fielder’s choice.
In the fifth inning, the Blazers managed three runs on four hits, all of which came with two outs in the inning.
The inning was led off by an inside-the-park home run by Steinhilber, who hustled around the base pads as the right fielder scuffled for the ball in deep right field. Kiley Rusen singled and scored on a triple by Strickland, who scored on a single by Fran Johnson later in the inning.
Reed was the winning pitcher for the Blazers in the win, after allowing one earned run on four hits, striking out five and walking three in the process. She was replaced in the top of the seventh inning after allowing two walks to start the frame. Calhoun was awarded a save after inducing a grounder and striking out two batters to end the game.
In game two, Valdosta State raced out to a five run lead before a costly error allowed Northwood to claw its way back into the game. Then the Blazers shut the door late with three runs in the fifth to secure the 8-4 victory.
The Blazers used a pair of two-run home runs from King and Albritton and an RBI single from Strickland to build their 5-0 lead before Northwood scored four runs in the top of the fifth inning to close within one.
King hammered her two-run homer in the first inning, scoring Altman, who had reached base on a walk. Then, after leaving two runners stranded in the first and another in each of the second and third innings, the Blazers got three runs in the fourth inning.
After a walk by Fran Johnson, and a sacrifice from Rusen, Strickland singled to score Johnson, making the score 3-0. Then, Albritton connected on her seventh home run of the season when she cleared the left field fence with her two-run homer to give the Blazers a 5-0 lead.
Lythberg pitched 4 2/3 innings without problem until a costly error by Albritton at shortstop, in the top of the fifth inning, kept the inning alive for the Timberwolves.
Lythberg went on to allow four runs (all unearned) on three hits, capped off by Northwood’s 3-run home run, which made the score 5-4. Lythberg was replaced by Calhoun, who allowed a single before receiving a diving catch in centerfield by Altman to get out of the inning.
In the bottom of the fifth inning, Steinhilber singled and was pinch-ran for by Lowndes native Brittany Britt. That was followed up by a sacrifice bunt by Fran Johnson and an RBI single from Rusen, who was pinch-ran for by April Collins.
Collins scored two batters later on a Morgan Johnson double to left field that cleared the left fielder’s head. Johnson’s double also scored Albritton, who reached on a fielder’s choice.
In the top of the sixth inning, Calhoun got out of a bases-loaded jam, securing the Blazers’ 8-4 lead. The Blazers and Calhoun shutdown the Timberwolves in the top of the seventh after a quiet bottom half in the sixth inning.
In the third game, which went officially did not count, Valdosta State fell into a 2-0 deficit in the top of the first inning when Lander used three straight singles to load the bases. Then pitcher Brianna Hancock hit a batter that brought in a run.
Then with the bases loaded, King fielded a grounder at second and threw home for the force out, but the throw brought Steinhilber off home plate and the runner was called safe, giving the Bearcats a 2-0 lead.
VSU got out of the inning on the next at-bat off a double play. Albritton threw home to Steinhilber for the force. Steinhilber then threw down to Rusen at first for the final out.
The Blazers got a run in the second when Steinhilber reached base after being pelted with a pitch. She scored on a single by Rusen. In the third inning, a solo home run by Albritton, which would have been her eighth of the season in just 16 games, tied the score at 2-2.
The game was called after lighting moved into the area just prior to the start of the fourth inning. No statistics from the third game will count towards the season.