The Valdosta Daily Times
Valdosta State’s baseball team scored four runs in the fifth inning, and went on to defeat West Alabama 6-1 on Sunday at Billy Grant Field.
The Blazers won two of three games this weekend against the Tigers, who came into the series with a 5-1 record in Gulf South Conference play. VSU (12-11, 2-6 in the GSC) earned its first two conference wins.
“I think (winning this game) was big, mostly for our guys’ confidence, especially on offense,” Valdosta State head coach Greg Guilliams said. “Our guys did a really good job today of hitting with runners in scoring position, which has been a struggle this year. They did a really good job of using the middle of the field, not trying to pull the ball, which we’ve worked on at practice.”
West Alabama starter Nick Bolleter (2-3) was dominant in the first four innings, retiring all 12 batters he faced. But then things changed in the bottom of the fifth.
Leading off the bottom of the fifth, Jake Fields lined a single to center, ending Bolleter’s bid for a perfect game. Then Fields stole second and was bunted to third by Cooper Lemonds. Michael Gouge followed with a single up the middle, scoring Fields and tying the score at 1-1. Bolleter tried to pick off Gouge, but threw the ball past the first baseman, and Gouge ran to second. One out later, Nick Rodda singled to left, and Gouge raced home from second to give the Blazers a 2-1 lead.
Then Jamie McMillan ripped a shot that went all the way to the fence in right center. Rodda was running on contact, and he sprinted around the bases to score. Hunter Thompson followed with a shot that went off of the leg of Tigers second baseman Brett Langham and into left field. McMillan crossed home plate, extending the Blazers’ lead to 4-1.
“For them to be down going into the fifth, and the guy has a perfect game, and then find a way to (score four runs) and then add to it later was big for our guys’ confidence,” Guilliams said.
The Blazers added a run in the bottom of the seventh. Gouge and Jake Montgomery started the inning with singles, and moved up on Rodda’s sacrifice bunt. McMillan hit a fly ball to center, and Gouge tagged up and ran home to make it 5-1.
Valdosta State scored its final run in the bottom of the eighth. Relief pitcher Luke McDonald retired the first two batters, but then walked Fields. Will Wilson pinch ran for Fields, stole second and went to third on a wild pitch. Will Austin followed with a single up the middle, and Wilson came home to give the Blazers a 6-1 lead.
That was more than enough run support for the Blazers’ pitchers, who turned in a strong outing on Sunday.
Junior left-hander Jeremy Holcomb (4-2) started the game on the mound for VSU, and limited West Alabama to one run and seven hits in 6 1/3 innings, and struck out four.
“After that first inning (when West Alabama scored its only run), I thought Jeremy really settled down,” Guilliams said. “He’s one of those pitchers that you’ve usually got to get him early, and if you don’t get him early and you let him settle in, he’s tough to beat.”
Holcomb left with two men on and one out in the top of the seventh, after having thrown 116 pitches. Benjamin Weil replaced Holcomb on the mound and got the first batter he faced to hit into an inning-ending double play. Then the senior submariner blanked the Tigers in the final two innings, and earned his second save of the season.
“Benjamin Weil this weekend pitched in every single game, and he did an unbelievable job in every single game,” Guilliams said. “The first game of the series, we brought him in to get out of a jam, and he did his job. Then we brought him in in game 2 to get a couple guys out, and he did his job. Then he came in today, and to finish it off after throwing so much (on Saturday), he was outstanding.”
West Alabama (12-14, 6-3 in the GSC) scored its only run in the top of the first. Langham doubled with one out, moved to third on a wild pitch and scored on Josh Podoris’ ground out. The Tigers might have gotten more runs in that inning, but leadoff hitter Matthew Magee was thrown out at third base while trying to turn a double into a triple.
Gouge went 2 for 4 with two runs and an RBI for the Blazers. McMillan drove in two runs.
For West Alabama, Bolleter allowed seven hits and five runs in seven innings, and struck out four. At the plate, Joel Murphy went 4 for 4, while Podoris was 2 for 4 with an RBI.
Valdosta State is off until next Saturday, when it hosts a doubleheader with Shorter at 3 p.m. at Billy Grant Field.