Valdosta Daily Times

Local Sports

May 17, 2014

Blazers one win away from nationals

In what has become a common occurence between two of the nation's best NCAA Division II softball teams, Valdosta State and Alabama-Huntsville slugged it out in Round 1 of the South Super Regional, with the Blazers edging out a 9-8 victory at Charger Park on Friday night in Huntsville, Ala. Game 2 of the best-of-3 series is today at 2 p.m., and if necessary, the third game would follow.

Playing late in a season where VSU has relied heavily on its veterans in the top half of the order, the Blazers (44-13) got a huge boost Friday from their young batters, as two freshmen — Morgan Butler and Lowndes product Heather Robinson — teamed up for three home runs that accounted for five of the Blazers’ nine runs.

UAH's Mary Kelley opened up the scoring in the bottom of the first inning with a two-run blast that easily cleared the right field fence, but just one swing by Robinson sent a Whitney Toler offering deep over the left field wall and plated three runs in the top of the second to quickly return the lead in favor of Valdosta State at 3-2.

Later in the same inning, Kiley Rusen contributed to the cause with a two-out laser off the left field fence to bring in Courtney Albritton, who reached first base just two batters earlier with her second walk of the game before she moved into scoring position on a Shelby Altman single through the left side. The RBI single for Rusen capped off a four-run second that pushed the Blazers in front with a 4-2 advantage.

The lead was one that the Blazers would narrowly retain throughout the rest of the night to give Brianna Hancock her 23rd win of the season. The Blazer senior remains undefeated in the 2014 postseason with a 7-0 record, compiled over the course of the Gulf South Conference tournament and NCAA regional play.

The Blazers tacked on another run and took a 5-2 lead in the third with a low rocket off the bat of Butler that cleared the wall in left-center, which represented the first home run of the freshman catcher's career.

After the Chargers (47-11) clawed back within one in the bottom half of the third when Kaitlyn Bannister slapped a two-run single with bases loaded. VSU escaped further damage when Fran Johnson caught a shallow fly ball in right and doubled Bannister off first.

After VSU added a run in the fifth on a Hannah Strickland double, back-to-back doubles from Albritton and Altman tacked on two more runs in the sixth.

Following a two-run home run from Tyler Harrison to make it 8-6 after six innings, Robinson finished off her 2-for-4, four-RBI outing when she connected for the second time of the night with a no-doubter to center field that accounted for what proved to be a critical insurance run, as the Chargers put together a string of at bats in the bottom of the final frame that had both teams on the edge of their seats before sophomore Caitlyn Calhoun relieved for Hancock and retired the two hitters she faced.

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