Valdosta Daily Times

Local Sports

May 10, 2014

Blazers slug way past Sailfish to open South Regional

TAMPA, Fla. — The NCAA South Region opener was growing more tense by the inning for Valdosta State. As the bottom of the sixth began on a warm west central Florida afternoon, catastrophe still lurked.

But the 16th-ranked Blazers had plenty of catastrophic insurance coming to bat.

Leading Palm Beach Atlantic by a run, VSU (41-13) got consecutive two-out, two-run hits from senior Shelby Altman and sophomore Kiley Rusen to seal a 7-2 victory against the Sailfish (30-15). The Blazers face Tampa today at 1 p.m. after the host Spartans beat Delta State 3-2.

“We had two mistakes in the game which gave them their runs,” said Blazers coach Thomas Macera, who watched the Sailfish cut his team’s lead to 3-2 with a pair of runs in the bottom of the fifth.

“But our hitting is what has always been our mainstay and what has gotten us out of trouble. So we’re blessed for that and we’ll take it.”

Subtract the fifth-inning aberration — when Palm Beach Atlantic collected two hits and scored one run on a throwing error — and Friday’s effort was vintage Valdosta State.

Senior right-hander Brianna Hancock (20-5) tossed a five-hitter, Altman (2-for-4, two RBIs) remained on her late-season tear, and the Blazers, hitting .339 as a team, brandished their trademark pop. At least one potential home run was negated by the towering outfield fence at the University of Tampa’s Naimoli Family Stadium.

VSU took a 1-0 lead in the first when Fran Johnson drew a two-out, bases-loaded walk, and added two more runs with two out in the fourth on leading hitter Courtney Albritton’s two-run single.

Peril arrived an inning later. Brianna Rano, the Sailfish’s No. 8 batter, scored Theresa Butler on a one-out single. Sarah Gosciniak, running for catcher Shelby Wood (who had doubled prior to Rano’s hit), then scored on a throwing error by Blazers catcher Morgan Butler.

The Sailfish then nearly tied it in the sixth. With two out, Victoria Gonzalez singled and reached second on an Altman throwing error. Theresa Butler then singled to left, but was thrown out at home on an inning-ending relay from April Collins (in left) to Hannah Strickland (at third) to Morgan Butler (at the plate).

“That was awesome,” said Altman, 13-for-23 (.565) in her last six games. “I wouldn’t expect anything less from our outfielders or our infield.”

The insurance providers — led by Altman — handled the rest.

“She’s on fire,” Macera said.

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