The Valdosta State softball team earned two Gulf South Conference wins on Saturday, sweeping a doubleheader against Delta State at Steel’s Diamond at Blazer Park.
The defending national champion Blazers improved to 32-8, and 17-6 in conference play.
The Blazers scored seven runs in the bottom of the fifth, and won the first game 7-1. Then they broke a 3-3 tie with a solo home run in the fifth and three runs in the sixth, and held off a seventh inning rally by the Lady Statesmen to win the second game 7-5.
“We played good. We’ll take (two conference wins),” Valdosta State head coach Thomas Macera said.
Game 1: Valdosta State 7, Delta State 1
Valdosta State scored seven runs in the bottom of the fifth, and beat Delta State 7-1 in the first game.
For the first four innings, it was a scoreless pitcher’s duel between Valdosta State’s Hanna Lythberg and Delta State’s Miller Maddox.
Delta briefly took the lead with an unearned run in the top of the fifth. But the Blazers responded in a big way when they came to bat in the bottom half of the inning.
Leading off the bottom of the fifth, Hannah Strickland singled back through the box. April Collins laid down a bunt, and Maddox tried to throw Strickland out at second. But her throw pulled the second baseman off the bag, and Strickland was safe. Strickland was forced out at third on Courtney Albritton’s ground ball, then Morgan Johnson walked to load the bases. Shelby Altman singled to center, and Collins scored the Blazers’ first run of the game, tying the score. Ashley Steinhilber hit a line drive at Delta State shortstop Amber Adcock, but Adcock misplayed it, and Albritton ran home to score, giving the Blazers a 2-1 lead.
Delta State coach Casey Bourgoyne-Charles went her bullpen and replaced Maddox with Lauren Kendall. Kendall got Sarah Vaughn to fly out to center, but Johnson tagged up and scored. Kiley Rusen lined a single to center, and Altman slid into home to give the Blazers a 4-1 lead. Then Fran Johnson hit a long fly ball to left field. The ball went over the left fielder’s head and hit the La Quinta sign. Steinhilber and Rusen were running on contact, and both of them scored on the double. Then Strickland, batting for the second time in the inning, doubled into the gap in right center, bringing home Fran Johnson with the Blazers’ seventh run of the inning and making the score 7-1.
After the big inning, Lythberg (12-3) went to the circle and retired six of the last seven batters to close out the win. She pitched a complete game, and held Delta to one unearned run and four hits, while striking out five.
Early on, Lythberg and Maddox traded zeroes on the scoreboard. The Blazers had a runner on third with less than two outs in both the third and fourth innings, but couldn’t score in either inning.
Delta finally broke the tie with an unearned run in the top of the fifth. Mariah Alvarez reached on an error to start the inning. Emily Todd bunted Alvarez to second, then Memrie Corley reached on an infield single, putting runners on the corners with one out. Then Corley took off for second on a steal attempt, trying to start a double steal. Altman, VSU’s shortstop, caught Steinhilber’s throw, then without attempting a tag, she fired it right back to the Blazer catcher. But her throw was off the mark, and Alvarez scored, giving the Lady Statesmen a 1-0 lead.
But Delta’s lead wouldn’t last long.
Strickland went 2 for 3 with an RBI, and was the only VSU player to get more than one hit. Holland had two hits for Delta.
Game 2: Valdosta State 7, Delta State 5
The Blazers continued to pound the ball in game 2, collecting 11 hits and scoring seven more runs.
Altman had a monster game at the plate, hitting two home runs and driving in five runs. She went 3 for 4.
“She’s a great player,” Macera said. “She’s just a really good kid, she works hard and she can play.”
Delta State grabbed the early lead, scoring two runs in the top of the first. Taylor Holland drove in Kaitlin Moore with a double to left, then scored on an error to give her team a 2-0 lead.
But the Blazers answered with two runs in the bottom half of the inning. Albritton singled and Morgan Johnson doubled, putting runners on second and third with no outs. Altman singled through the left side, scoring Albritton. Steinhilber followed with a sacrifice fly to left, and Johnson ran home to tie the score.
Delta regained the lead in the top of the third. With two outs, Holland beat out an infield single, then back-to-back singles to left by Alvarez and Taylor Hughes loaded the bases. Then Caroline Womack walked to force in a run, putting the Lady Statesmen ahead 3-2.
But in the bottom half of the inning, Altman jumped on a pitch and drove it over the Talk 92.1 FM sign in left center for a solo homer, making it 3-3.
Then Steinhilber stepped up to the plate to lead off the bottom of the fifth, and hit a towering fly ball down the left field line. The ball cleared the fence just inside the foul pole for a home run. The fans got a coupon for food from Zacadoo’s — it was the Zac’s Jack inning — and the Blazers got their first lead of the game, 4-3.
The Blazers added three insurance runs in the bottom of the sixth. With one out, Albritton singled and Morgan Johnson doubled. Then Altman unloaded on a pitch, and hit a long fly ball to left field. The ball cleared the left field fence and the fence behind it, and landed in a bush next to Ashley Cinemas. Altman’s three-run homer extended Valdosta State’s lead to 7-3.
Delta State tried to rally in the seventh. Two singles and an error loaded the bases with one out. At that point, Macera brought Lythberg out of the bullpen to replace starter Brianna Hancock. Alvarez singled up the middle, scoring Kayla Wilson. Then Moore scored on a fielder’s choice, cutting VSU’s lead to 7-5.
“They always battle hard. They always play us hard,” Macera said.
But Lythberg got the next hitter to hit a ground ball back to her, and she threw the ball to Rusen at first for the final out.
Albritton and Morgan Johnson both had two hits and scored two runs. Tiffany Adkison also had two hits. Steinhilber drove in two runs.
Hancock (13-4) allowed five runs, three earned, and 10 hits in 6 1/3 innings. Lythberg picked up her second save.
In between games on Saturday, Valdosta State’s four seniors — Morgan Johnson, Steinhilber, Vaughn and Adkison — were honored.
“It’s a great senior class,” Macera said. “They’re taking a lot away from here. They’ve won a lot of championships. They’ve taken away a (national championship) ring. They’re great players. I’m sad to see them go.”
Valdosta State will play its final regular season games today, when it hosts Christian Brothers at 1 p.m. at Steel’s Diamond.