The Valdosta Daily Times
Many of the names have changed since last year, but one thing remains the same: the Valdosta State Blazers can still pound a softball.
The top-ranked Blazers scored 20 runs in two games, and swept a doubleheader from Georgia Southwestern in their first two home games of the season on Tuesday at Blazer Field.
The 2012 Division II national champions hit four home runs and pounded out 20 hits in the doubleheader.
“I think (today’s performance) shows we can hit,” Valdosta State head coach Thomas Macera said after the game. “I’ve told everybody I think this is one of the best hitting teams I’ve ever had. We got down and had a lot of adversity, and we had to play through, and (they showed) they’re not going to lay down.”
At the same time, Macera saw areas his team needs to improve in. Valdosta State has only three full-time starters and one pitcher back from last season, and there were times when the team showed its inexperience.
“We’re young. We’ve never played together as a team. They’re virtually brand new, the entire team,” Macera said. “We’ve got to learn to play defense. You can’t make errors, because that gives them four or five outs an inning, and we’ve got to stay away from those big innings.”
Valdosta State 8, Georgia Southwestern 5
Shelby Altman and Courtney Albritton both went 2 for 4 and homered in VSU’s game 1 victory.
Valdosta State took the early lead with two runs in the bottom of the first. With Albritton on third and one out, Altman ripped a line drive to deep right field. The ball sailed over the fence and into a ditch behind the fence for a two-run homer, giving the Blazers a 2-0 lead.
In the bottom of the second, Hannah Strickland singled up the middle, and Angela O’Connor slid across home plate, giving the Blazers a 3-0 lead.
Georgia Southwestern tied the score with three runs in the top of the third. Elliott Martin came home when Hayley Knight lined a single off of the third baseman’s glove. One out later, Kiley Doster and Knight scored on Ashley Clifton’s double to the warning track, making it 3-3.
But the Blazers quickly took the lead back. Leading off the bottom of the third, Altman ripped a double to the fence in left center, moved up on a ground out, then ran home when Karson King grounded to second, putting VSU back on top, 4-3.
The Blazers put two more runs on the scoreboard in the fifth. With one out, Fran Johnson’s fly ball to deep left center was dropped. Brittany Britt came around to score, and Johnson wound up on third. Then O’Connor laid down a bunt. Johnson raced for the plate and beat the throw, giving the Blazers a 6-3 lead.
Albritton stepped up to the plate to start the bottom of the sixth, ripped into a pitch and drilled a home run over the left field fence. The ball narrowly missed an SUV in the Ashley Cinemas parking lot, making it 7-3.
With two outs in the sixth, King singled home Morgan Johnson to give the Blazers an 8-3 lead.
Georgia Southwestern scored two runs in the top of the seventh, but VSU relief pitcher Caitlyn Calhoun retired the final two batters to close out the win.
Altman and Albritton both went 2 for 4 with a home run and scored two runs for the Blazers. Morgan and Fran Johnson also had two hits apiece. King drove in two runs.
Brianna Hancock (3-0) was the winning pitcher, allowing seven hits and striking out three. Three of the five runs she allowed were unearned.
Georgia Southwestern’s Allison Pastor (4-2) pitched a complete game, and allowed eight runs, five earned, and 11 hits.
Valdosta State 12, Georgia Southwestern 6
Valdosta State broke a 3-3 tie with four runs in the fifth inning and five more in the sixth, and defeated Georgia Southwestern 12-6 in game 2.
The score was tied 3-3 heading into the bottom of the fifth when Albritton stepped up to the plate to start the inning. She saw a pitch she liked and hammered it into the Ashley Cinemas parking lot for her second home run of the day. Albritton’s homer put the Blazers ahead 4-3.
Morgan Johnson followed with a double just inside the left field line, and moved to third on Altman’s sacrifice bunt. Two batters later, King singled in front of a diving center fielder, and Johnson came home. Pitcher Ashley Cavender walked the next two batters to load the bases, then uncorked a wild pitch. King ran home to score, and when the catcher’s throw back to Cavender got away, Fran Johnson ran home as well, extending Valdosta State’s lead to 7-3.
Georgia Southwestern responded in the top of the sixth. Leading off the inning, Janna Anderson hit a line drive over the fence for a solo home run. Then after a pitching change, Nellie Moore crushed a pitch over the center field fence. Anderson and Moore’s back-to-back solo home runs cut the Blazers’ lead to 7-5.
Mason Moreland reached on an infield single and was bunted to second. Two batters later, Clifton hit what should have been an inning-ending ground ball to short, but Albritton booted it. Moreland never stopped running, and crossed home plate to make it 7-6.
But the Blazers put the game away with five runs in the bottom half of the sixth. A walk, an error and a sacrifice bunt put runners on second and third with one out. Altman followed with a line drive single to right, scoring Strickland and Albritton. Then Kiley Rusen hit a line drive down the third base line to bring Altman home. King singled and O’Connor walked, loading the bases with two outs. Ashley Steinhilber followed with a single to right, scoring Britt (who was running for Rusen) and King and increasing the Blazers’ lead to 12-6.
VSU’s Kenzi Reed blanked the Hurricanes in the seventh to close out the win.
Georgia Southwestern got on the board first in game 2. Moreland reached on an error to start the game, and moved up on a wild pitch and a stolen base. Jordan Miller’s ground out scored Moreland and gave the Hurricanes a 1-0 lead.
Valdosta State answered with two runs in its half of the first. Albritton walked, stole second, was bunted to third and scored on Rusen’s two-out single to right. An error and a walk loaded the bases, then O’Connor drew a bases loaded walk, which brought home Rusen and gave VSU a 2-1 lead.
McElroy scored on an error in the top of the second. Then in the top of the fourth, Knight’s infield single scored Anderson and gave the Hurricanes a 3-2 lead.
Fran Johnson tied the score at 3-3 with a home run over the center field fence leading off the bottom of the fourth.
Rusen went 2 for 4 with a run and two RBIs in game 2. King was 2 for 4 with two runs and one RBI. Altman and Steinhilber drove in two runs apiece.
Freshman Hanna Lythberg (2-0) was the winning pitcher, allowing four runs and six hits in five innings and striking out six. Only two of those runs were earned. Calhoun and Reed pitched one inning apiece.
This weekend, the Blazers will travel to Decatur, Ala. to play in the Charger Chill Out. They will play Indianapolis at noon and Lander at 4 p.m. on Saturday. On Sunday, they will face Palm Beach Atlantic at noon and Wayne State at 2 p.m.