Valdosta Daily Times

Local Sports

April 7, 2012

Blazers set GSC record, sweep North Alabama

VSU welcomes rival Alabama-Huntsville today at 2 p.m.

VALDOSTA — Move over West Florida, the Valdosta State softball team now holds the longest winning streak in Gulf South Conference history.

The Blazers (35-2) clinched the record for longest winning streak with a 5-0 victory over North Alabama in game one of Friday’s doubleheader at the VSU Softball Complex.

 The Blazers followed the victory with a 5-1 win over the Lions, extending the streak to 29 games and improving to 18-0 in conference play.

“It is a great accomplishment for us,” Valdosta State head coach Thomas Macera said. “It has never been done in the Gulf South, and the Gulf South is the toughest in the country. You have to play day in and day out. It is just a testament of how well these girls are playing, and how hard they are working. It is a really good thing for Valdosta State.”

Now, Valdosta State turns its attention towards 21st ranked, and arch rival, Alabama-Huntsville. The two teams will play a doubleheader today at 2 p.m. The games will mark VSU’s annual Pack the Park day.

“Our fans are unbelievable,” Macera said. “It’s a Friday afternoon and there are 300 people here, that is unbelievable. We need the fans here (today), obviously Huntsville is our biggest games.”

For players like April Hutchens, who finished Friday 3 for 5 with a run scored, today will be the final regular season meetings against the Lady Chargers.

“It means a whole lot, because I am a senior,” Hutchens said. “It is huge to beat (UAH). It is huge for us to play our best. We are going to have a big crowd, and we have to show our fans what we can do.”

On Friday, freshmen Angela O’Connor and Courtney Albritton were the driving force in the victories. O’Connor delivered a three-run, two-out, triple in the opening inning of VSU’s game one victory, and then a solo go-ahead home run in the fifth inning of game two.

Albritton finished the day 3 for 6 with four runs batted in and three runs scored, connecting on two homers in the game two win.

“It feels good that I was able to come through for them today,” O’Connor said. “We have been struggling with runners on base and runners on second and third with one out, and that was with two outs, it was good to come through.”

Today’s games against Huntsville games against their rival at home, and they both admit they have been warned about what to expect.

“I’m just so excited,” O’Connor said. “Pack the Park, I hope we have a ton of people here. It was awesome there, but to have our own fans here, it is going to be crazy.”

“We were told to expect more than 500 people,” Albritton said. “That is way more people than I have ever played in front of. I heard the atmosphere is great, and I heard it helps a lot. Hopefully it will get us excited.”

It was a relatively quiet day for senior shortstop Marti Littlefield. The Berrien native was 0 for 6 with a run scored, reaching base on a two-out error in the first inning of game one.

The error by North Alabama first baseman Dani Colwill allowed Natalia Morozova and Ashley Steinhilber, who finished the day 3 for 4 with a run scored, to reach base, which was followed by O’Connor’s bases clearing double, that gave the Blazers a 4-0 lead.

Littlefield remains three home runs and six RBI away from breaking the Gulf South Conference record in both categories. The records are held by former Lady Chargers.

“She is bound for it to happen,” Hutchens said of her teammate’s pursuit of history. “She has come a long way and if she does it, it just means a lot for her and the team.”

Following VSU’s four-run first inning in game one, which featured Albritton scoring on the Colwill error, the Blazers capped the scoring in the third inning, as Morozova reached base on a leadoff single. She advanced to second base on a sacrifice bunt from Steinhilber and to third base on a wild pitch. Fran Johnson, who later scored on a sacrifice squeeze bunt by Clare Wamsley, replaced her on base. The score gave the Blazers a 5-0 advantage.

Valdosta State pitcher Alanna Hadley earned her 18th victory of the season, allowing no runs on four hits in the game one victory. Hadley ran into trouble in the second inning, after she loaded the bases. After the game was delayed for several minutes while her hand was examined, due to an injury on her throwing index finger, Hadley forced back-to-back fly outs to retire the inning.

In game two, Albritton led off the bottom of the first inning with a home run, quickly giving VSU a 1-0 lead. But, the Blazers struggled, offensively, until the fifth inning, when they scored four runs off Albritton’s and O’Connor’s home runs, to take a 5-1 lead.

“(O’Connor’s home run) was huge,” Macera said. “(UNA’s pitcher) was doing a good job at jamming us and we were just popping the ball up, but O’Connor didn’t haven’t the best count to hit with but she just got one to hit and got hold of it. The kid has power, and she hit that one and I don’t think it has landed yet. It just opened it up for every one. Usually when one person hits, every one else hits.”

After retiring UNA in 1-2-3 fashion in each of the first three innings, game two starter Brianna Hancock ran into trouble in the fourth inning. The sophomore surrendered three straight hits, including a one-run double by UNA’s Kathryn Young, which evened the score at 1-1.

The Lions didn’t go away easily, loading the bases against VSU, with no outs, in the top of the seventh inning. After surrendering two hits and a hit-by-pitch, Hancock was replaced by Courtney Gunby, who retired the next three batters in order to end the game.

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