Valdosta Daily Times

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February 16, 2014

Shorter sweeps VSU in Gulf South Conference softball opener

VALDOSTA — Al Thomas’ feelings on the production from Shorter’s designated player spot changed dramatically with one decision and one swing of the bat.

With the Hawks and host Valdosta State tied in the first game of the Gulf South Conference-opening softball series at Steel’s Diamond, Thomas called on freshman Ericka Bynum to pinch hit and she delivered a two-run home run that proved the difference in Shorter’s 3-1 Game 1 win. The Hawks then overpowered No. 6 VSU 8-6 in Game 2.

The Hawks and Blazers play again today at 1 p.m. to conclude the series.

“(Bynum) hits the ball extremely well and I was disappointed in what we were getting out of that DP spot,” Thomas said of the switch. “I just believe in letting kids have opportunities, and we’re so early in the season, so we haven’t been able to see what some kids could do.

“She stepped up and made an old coach look a little better than he should probably.”

Bynum was hitting just .200 prior to that at-bat with just one extra-base hit, a double, during the Hawks’ first nine games. However Megan Christensen had grounded out and popped out in her first two at-bats against Brianna Hancock, so Thomas rolled the dice.

“That was the ballgame,” he said. “That was the difference in the game.”

That was the difference because Shorter ace Christina Ezell silenced the Blazers’ potent attack. Hitting a cumulative .343 entering the series, the Blazers managed just three hits against Ezell, two not leaving the infield.

“We just didn’t play,” VSU coach Thomas Macera said. “We just didn’t show up and play our best ball. You have to play better against the better teams.

“We didn’t hit today. They’ve got good pitchers that keep you off-balance and we just didn’t swing it well.”

The Blazers’ lone hit that reached the grass was a one-out double from Hannah Strickland in the fourth that drove in Shelby Altman who had walked. It gave VSU a short-lived 1-0 lead.

The Hawks answered right back as Kayla Cooper opened the fifth by reaching on an error and then scored on a two-out single from Maggie Meachum.

“To win games here, you have to pitch, you have to hit and you have to have a lot of luck,” Thomas added. “We got lucky in those two ballgames.”

Shorter, which improved to 6-5 and 2-0 in the conference, and VSU (8-5, 0-2) traded solo home runs in the first inning as Jackie Castaneda put the Hawks up with one out in the top of the inning before Courtney Albritton drove the second pitch in the home half into the adjoining parking lot in left.

The Hawks’ bats kept rattling. Shorter scored twice in the third with Castaneda and Felicia Morris delivering consecutive run-scoring bloop singles with two outs, part of a hour-hit frame for Shorter.

“They’ve got a great team,” Thomas said. “There’s not a team in the country that swings it better than they do.

“That luck part I was telling you about, they hit three balls on the nose and we caught them. We had a couple bloop hits and they didn’t have any of those in that second game.”

An inning later the Hawks chased VSU starter Rebekah Kiser as Bynum and Kameron Carter had back-to-back singles to open the inning.

That allowed freshman Maci Fletcher to make her collegiate debut for the Blazers. Outside of a rough-luck start, Fletcher slowed the Shorter attack.

After a sacrifice bunt, Fletcher coaxed a ground ball to short from Meachum but Altman’s throw home was high and Bynum scored. An out later, Castaneda — who was hitting just .118 entering the series before going 3-for-4 in Game 2 with three RBIs and two runs — reached on a high-chopper up the middle and two runs scored on the play as Chelsea Canara threw wildly to first.

“We made mistakes on defense, and all that gets magnified,” Macera said. “We’ve just got to play better.”

Following a Paige Rowland home run to open the fifth that made it 7-1, Fletcher silenced Shorter until an unearned run in the seventh.

“She pitched very well,” Macera added. “We brought her in because we know she’s a good pitcher and we’ve just got to get her some innings and some experience. But she had a really good day today.”

But it was too little too late for VSU.

The Blazers’ offensive woes continued against Shorter’s Kalei Kimbrell, who allowed only three other hits heading into the fifth. There Albritton and Canara had consecutive hits and then Karson King ripped a two-out single off Gracie Ayers’ glove at third to drive in one. Canara, though, was thrown out at third on the play to snuff the rally.

“The big play was the third out when we threw the kid out trying to take third,” Thomas added.

Two innings later, VSU made a desperation rally as pinch hitter Halie Imler opened the seventh with a single and Albritton reached on an error that scored Imler. An out later and following Kiley Rusen being hit by a pitch, King chased Kimbrell with a three-run home run. But Ezell then retired Altman to end it.

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