Valdosta Daily Times

Local Sports

May 23, 2014

Blazers catch fire

VSU rallies past Wayne State in opener

VALDOSTA — Held in check for six innings, the Valdosta State Blazers caught fire just in time Thursday evening.

Limited to just two runs by Wayne State ace Lyndsay Butler in their NCAA Division II national tournament opener, the Blazers rallied in the seventh and then won it two innings later 8-5 on a pair of huge Fran Johnson hits to advance into the winner’s bracket. VSU (46-14) will face Dixie State at 6:30 p.m. today. The Red Storm beat the Savage Storm 3-2 in Thursday's late game.

Valdosta State, which won the 2012 national title, had lost its tournament opener each of the past two years. But the Blazers never lost faith that the streak wouldn’t reach three.

“Our team has so much heart, and we believe in each other so much,” Johnson said. “It wasn’t just my hit, you know, we had to have people on. This isn’t just a one-person game.”

Shut down by Butler up until that last chance, second-team All-American Shelby Altman singled with one out to start the seventh-inning rally. Kiley Rusen, also without a hit up to that point, followed with a single as well and the Blazers were in business. Hannah Strickland pulled VSU within 5-3 with a single through the right side and the Blazers inched within one when Chelsea Canara reached on an error. Then stepped in Johnson, one of the four Blazers playing in her third national championship tournament. She promptly lined a single over Butler’s head into center field to tie it.

Given new life, the Blazers knew what to do with it. Caitlyn Calhoun, who relieved starter Brianna Hancock in the fourth, retired the 46-11 Warriors in order in the bottom of the seventh and then allowed just lone singles in the eighth and the ninth. Calhoun allowed six hits in 5 1-3 innings of relief, giving up a pair of unearned runs in the sixth when the Warriors pushed their lead from 3-2 to a three-run advantage.

“Cat pitched amazing after she came in, and we just fight,” Johnson said. “That’s what we’re known for.”

But with Calhoun silencing the Warriors in extra innings, the VSU offense picked back up. Rusen and Strickland opened the ninth with back-to-back singles and Canara, who homered to lead off the second to tie the game at 1 and then scored to tie at 2 in the fourth, then bunted to move them over. Johnson, who had three of the Blazers’ 15 hits, then unloaded on a monster home run to left field to give VSU its first lead of the game.

“The more you see a pitcher, the better you feel,” Johnson said, adding that the pitch was a riser from Butler that hung up. “The more pitches I see, the better I tend to hit, and I felt like I started to see her rise ball better as the game went on.”

Wayne State, which will play in an elimination game at 2:30 p.m. Saturday, scored on a two-out single from Emily Bryce in the first and then answered Canara’s home run with a leadoff home run from Jade McGarr in the bottom half of the second. It was McGarr’s second of the year and just Wayne State’s 13th.

Then after VSU again knotted the score in the fourth, the Warriors immediately answered when Butler’s two-out single plated Emily Cava and chased Hancock, who allowed eight hits in 3 2-3 innings, while escaping trouble during most of that. Four of Wayne State’s five runs came with two outs, including the two unearned runs in the sixth.

Butler, the Wayne State ace that entered the tournament with a 0.86 ERA after allowing just 25 earned runs in 204 1-3 innings, went the distance for the Warriors. But the Blazers tagged her for eight earned runs on their 15 hits. Butler did strike out eight batters, giving her 300 for the year.

Text Only
Local Sports
  • Nolin settling in as new VSU soccer coach

    Meet Rebecca Nolin, VSU's new soccer coach.

    July 28, 2014

  • Induction Crowd: Honorees were genuine, down to earth

    More than 48,000 people gathered under the scorching sun at The Clark Sports Center for the 75th National Baseball Hall of Fame Induction Sunday, including one woman who carpooled to the event with more than 40 other people.

    July 28, 2014

  • Braves trio all business at inductions

    The Braves seemed almost businesslike in their approach -- something you might expect from a trio that won so consistently.
    Managers Joe Torre and Tony La Russa also remained calm and collected throughout their addresses.
    Frank Thomas took care of the emotional side, his voice breaking and his eyes moist during a heartfelt speech Sunday at the Clark Sports Center.

    July 28, 2014

  • Cooperstown Merchants: Weekend was a success

    Cooperstown merchants are elated about the exceptionally prosperous Hall of Fame Induction Weekend, several storekeepers said Sunday.

    During an afternoon lull in business, when the National Baseball Hall of Fame's induction ceremony was taking place, area shop and restaurant owners took a quick breath, reflected and expressed satisfaction with their sales for the weekend.

    July 28, 2014

  • Hall of Famers thank fathers for stepping up to the plate

    Great ballplayers thanking their dads at a Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony is about as original as oil and vinegar are to an Italian restaurant.

    July 28, 2014

  • Hall_Maddux.jpg Hall of Braves

    The weird part was that Jeff Idelson didn't take a lot of time to answer.
    "Is there any word or description that unifies this class?" was the query posed to the National Baseball Hall of Fame's president.
    "The common thread among the six is profound humility," Idelson said of former managers Joe Torre, Bobby Cox and Tony La Russa, and former players Frank Thomas, Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine, all of whom will be inducted into the Hall today. "I don't think I realized that fully until I spent time with them in December. It was uncanny to me, for the cumulative star power in that group, the humility among them. I think that's felt really strongly with baseball fans."

    July 27, 2014 2 Photos 1 Story

  • Hall_Cox.jpg Cox’s willingness to defend players stands out to local coaches

    Bobby Cox will be able to add Hall of Famer to his resume when he is inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame today in Cooperstown, N.Y.
    But the former Atlanta Braves manager’s legacy will remain the same to area baseball coaches: his willingness to defend his players.

    July 27, 2014 1 Photo 1 Story

  • Valwood_Henderson.jpg Area teams hoping to get over the hump

    Past successes lead to present and future expectations.
    That’s the task faced by pretty much all 12 area high school football coaches present Saturday at In The Game Magazine’s South Georgia Football media day at the Holiday Inn conference center.
    It’s a task that also has the elite group searching for answers as to how to get past the state championship road block in recent years, aside from Valwood’s GISA Class AA crown in 2012.

    July 27, 2014 1 Photo

  • VHS little cats camp 1.jpg Valdosta hosts fundamental camp for ‘Little ’Cats’

    July 27, 2014 1 Photo

  • VHS practice1.jpg Getting Back to Work

    Friday officially began the 2014 season for the Valdosta Wildcats and both the offense and defense came out and made statements.
    After holding spring and summer workouts, the Wildcats will practice four more times without pads before beginning full pad practice next week.

    July 26, 2014 2 Photos

Blazers Blog