The Valdosta Daily Times
Valdosta State’s start to the Holiday Inn Classic didn’t go as planned. The top-ranked Blazers lost to the Northwood Timberwolves 7-6 Saturday morning, ending a five-game winning streak in the process.
The Blazers’ second game of the softball tournament, scheduled for 5 p.m. on Saturday against Lander, was canceled due to heavy rain and winter storms in the area.
After spotting Northwood a 5-0 lead through the first three innings, the Blazers managed a five-run third inning to tie the game at 5-5, before giving up two final runs to the Timberwolves in the fifth inning.
“We had a good inning,” Valdosta State head coach Thomas Macera said. “But the thing is, you can’t rely on just one good inning. It takes seven innings to win the ball game, not one. We have to play for seven innings. We just didn’t show up.
“They have to get off the carpet. We have to go. We have conference next week. Every game is important.”
The Blazers are schedule to play a pair of games today, starting with a meeting against Lander at 1 p.m. They are scheduled to play Northwood at 3 p.m. VSU will open conference play next Saturday with a doubleheader against Union.
In the first inning, Northwood lit up VSU starting pitcher Brianna Hancock, who allowed five earned runs in two-plus innings of work. Hancock allowed three runs on two hits and a pair of walks, before inducing a grounder and a strikeout to end the inning.
In the third inning, Northwood managed three straight singles to start the inning, and Hancock was relieved of her duties in the circle. Kenzi Reed, who allowed the two-run home run in the fifth inning that gave the Timberwolves their final lead of the day, replaced Hancock in the circle.
“They gave up too many walks, and there are just some things we need to do better,” Macera said. “We just have to change some things to keep us in the game.”
Kiley Rusen started the Blazers’ third inning comeback with a single, and was pinch-ran for by Brittany Britt. A single by Ashley Steinhilber, a double by Hanna Strickland — which scored Britt — and a single by Courtney Albritton — which scored Steinhilber — followed up Rusen’s single to start the inning for the Blazers.
Then, Morgan Johnson walked and Shelby Altman grounded into a fielder’s choice that scored Strickland from third. Johnson was tagged out in the base path on the play.
Altman worked her way to third base before Karson King walked and was pinch-run for by April Collins, who stole second. Then Sarah Vaughn flew out to center field, scoring Altman from third base.
Trailing 7-5 heading into the final inning, the Blazers added a King home run to make the score 7-6. Then Lindsey Hamlin hit a pinch hit single after multiple deep foul balls. The single didn’t matter, though, because Fran Johnson struck out to end the game.
Valdosta State had its chances for more runs in the game, but couldn’t take advantage. In the second inning, a 6-3-5 double play ended the Blazers’ scoring chance with a runner in scoring position. In the fifth inning, Altman was thrown out at home on a relay from right field, while the Blazers had runners in scoring position.
“They were throwing us away, and we were trying to pull the ball instead of staying through it,” Macera said. “We had other opportunities. We had a kid thrown out at home that could have gone either way. That would have been a tied game. There were chances.”
Steinhilber was 3 for 3 with a run scored to lead Valdosta State. King finished 2 for 2 with her seventh-inning home run.
Reed allowed just two runs in her five innings of work, but took the loss after allowing the home run in the fifth. Still, Macera was pleased with the senior’s performance.
“Kenzi kept us in the game,” Macera said. “There is no doubt. She kept us in the game. She isn’t going to strike everyone out, but you’re not going to strike everyone out.”