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March 4, 2013

Blazers split with UNA

VALDOSTA — After an error on a routine fly ball to right field proved to be costly in game one of Sunday’s doubleheader against North Alabama, the top-ranked Valdosta State softball team bounced back to avoid being swept in a doubleheader for the first time since April 2011.

After blowing a two-run lead and losing game one 4-2, the Blazers used a massive fourth inning in game two to secure a 6-2 win.

Valdosta State finished the weekend 3-1, and is now 16-3 overall.

“We played well enough to win two games,” Valdosta State head coach Thomas Macera said. “We have to make routine plays. If we make routine plays, we win two games.”

A costly error in right field by sophomore Fran Johnson allowed North Alabama to erect a four-run sixth inning and beat the Blazers in game one.

The error kept alive the Lions’ inning, and enabled them to score four unearned runs against VSU starter Brianna Hancock, who, despite taking the loss, was considerably improved from a shaky performance Saturday.

UNA started the sixth inning with a single, a strikeout and another single. Then Johnson misplayed a fly ball. The Lions scored one run on the play, and had a pair of runners on base with one out. After a walk and an RBI ground out, UNA’s Ashley Bonner delivered a two-run single that made the score 4-2.

Valdosta State had chances in the bottom half of the final two innings, but couldn’t score the necessary runners. In the bottom of the sixth inning, the Blazers received a pair of one-out singles from Morgan Johnson and Shelby Altman, but left them stranded.

In the seventh inning, Kiley Rusen earned a two-out walk, followed by a Hannah Strickland single. Then Angela O’Connor singled and Macera sent Rusen home, but the throw from UNA left fielder Callie Steadman was on point, and she was tagged out at home for the final out of the game.

“It was a slow roller, and I should not have sent her,” Macera said. “Any other runner is probably safe, and that is my fault. I know how fast my kid is, but it took the (left fielder) a long time to pick the ball up, and I thought we had it.”

The Blazers’ two runs in the game came in the fifth inning. Karson King hit a solo home run, her second in as many days. Then Rusen connected on a two-out double to score Ashley Steinhilber.

In game two, Valdosta State fell into a 1-0 hole after a solo home run by North Alabama in the third       inning. But a massive five-run fifth inning propelled the Blazers ahead for good.

The Blazers started the inning with four straight singles, topped off by Tiffany Atkinson’s hit that scored Sarah Vaughn. Two at-bats later, Morgan Johnson roped a two-out, three-run double that made the score 5-1.

Johnson scored a few pitches later on a Shelby Altman double.

“We are not going to lay down,” Macera said. “The girls are going to scrap. We just made some unfortunate blunders in the first game, and you just have to move on. They are good at moving on. If they sit there and keep reliving the first game, you would never get off the carpet.”

UNA capped the scoring in the sixth inning, getting one run off of VSU starter Kenzi Reed (6-1).

Reed allowed just two runs on five hits, despite recording just one strikeout. Hancock, who took the game one loss, allowed just one earned run on eight hits and struck out seven.

After the game, Macera was pleased with his pitching, a day after telling the pitchers they needed to improve in the circle.

“Our pitchers absolutely pitched very well today,” Macera said. “We should have won game one 2-0. (Brianna) pitched very well. It is the best Bri has pitched all year, and she deserved the win. We made some mistakes, and we can’t make those mistakes.”

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