The Valdosta Daily Times
At one point, Albany State had the large crowd at Steel’s Diamond relatively quiet. The Golden Rams, who were winless in four attempts against Valdosta State this season, were leading 4-0, following a fifth inning grand slam.
But, somehow, someway, Valdosta State found its timely hits and came from behind to defeat the Golden Rams 5-4 on the first day of South Region 1 Tournament at Blazer Park.
The Blazers will face Tampa, which routed Saint Leo 8-0 in five innings Friday afternoon, this morning at 10 a.m., as all tournament games were moved up because of the threat of heavy rain in the Valdosta area.
“Albany State hit 28 home runs in their conference tournament. I mean they have gotten way, way better,” Valdosta State head coach Thomas Macera said. “Everybody thinks just cause it is Albany State. I mean, they are a good team. They have a good drop ball pitcher, got I don’t even know how many ground balls against us. That is what we try to do, and it worked for them. And we give up a grand slam. We do not look past anybody. I was not looking past tonight’s game.”
Trailing 4-0, the Blazers received a three-run home run from senior Ashley Steinhilber in the bottom of the fifth inning to close within one run. An inning later, Courtney Albritton scored on a sacrifice grounder from senior Sarah Vaughn to tie the game at 4-4.
“Steiny has been killing the ball in postseason,” Macera said of his senior catcher, Steinhilber. “She was doing it up there in Southaven. Steiny has been killing the ball this year. We have been hitting the ball and today we finally got it in the seventh.”
Then, in the bottom of the seventh inning, senior Morgan Johnson delivered a bases-loaded single into left field to score her sister, Fran, carrying Valdosta State to the victory.
Albany State’s Alexa Lopez — the drop ball pitcher Macera alluded to following the game — confused Blazer batters throughout the night, inducing 15 ground ball outs. Lacking a key hit in multiple innings, the Blazers left the bases loaded twice and left two more runners stranded in the second and sixth innings, respectively.
“We had too many opportunities and we just couldn’t get that timely hit,” Macera said. “That is what championship ball is about — timely hits. One time we get it and we could have busted it wide open and who knows what the score is. But we didn’t get a hit until the seventh inning with Mo Mo up.”
Valdosta State’s Brianna Hancock worked well in the circle, despite allowing the grand slam to ASU’s Domonique Bryant in the fifth inning that pushed the Golden Rams ahead 4-0.
Hancock finished the night with seven strikeouts, allowing the four runs on four hits and three walks.
“It is tough on a kid like that; she has bases loaded, she was up 0-2 on the kid, and the kid works the count that we have to pitch to her,” Macera said, of the grand slam. “She left a pitch that was pretty decent to the kid and she hit it.”
Now, with just a 13-hour turnaround, the Blazers are forced to put their come-from-behind victory, that left some Blazer fans puzzled, behind them and turn their focus on Tampa, which used a grand slam in the fifth inning to run-rule St. Leo, 8-0.
“They are good. They are here for a reason,” Macera said. “They have very good pitching and they are scrappy. We have got to play better (today).”