Morgan Johnson and Ashley Steinhilber were playing their final regular season home games on Sunday. Both of them had days they will remember for a long time.
Johnson blasted three home runs, Steinhilber hit two homers and the two seniors led Valdosta State’s softball team to a doubleheader sweep of Christian Brothers on Sunday at Steel’s Diamond at Blazer Park.
Johnson, a senior left fielder, homered once in Valdosta State’s 9-1 win in game 1. Then she and Steinhilber, a senior catcher, both hit two home runs in a 10-3 rout in game 2.
“Our whole team hit well. Those two hit real well,” Valdosta State head coach Thomas Macera said. “Morgan hit three home runs. That’s a big day for anybody. Those two kids can hit, no doubt.”
Johnson, who went 7 for 7 and drove in eight runs in the doubleheader, now has 11 home runs this year. Steinhilber, who went 4 for 7 and drove in three runs in the two games, has six homers.
The rest of the Blazers also hammered the ball on Sunday. Valdosta State (37-9, 22-7 in the Gulf South Conference) scored 19 runs and pounded out 30 hits in the two wins.
“I think we played real well. We made a couple of mistakes, but everyone makes mistakes,” Macera said. “We hit the ball well. (Christian Brothers) is a team that split with North Alabama. ... We just took care of business.”
Game 1: Valdosta State 9, Christian Brothers 1
The Blazers’ offensive onslaught began in game 1, when they collected 14 hits and scored nine runs in a mercy rule victory.
It took just two batters for VSU to get on the scoreboard. Courtney Albritton led off the bottom of the first with a single to left. Then Johnson stepped up to the plate and tattooed a pitch, sending it over the left field fence and into the Ashley Cinemas parking lot for a two-run homer. Christian Brothers hadn’t even recorded an out, and VSU led 2-0.
Two batters after Johnson’s home run, Steinhilber singled up the middle, moved up on a ground out and a wild pitch, then scored on another wild pitch to give the Blazers a 3-0 lead.
VSU put another run on the board in the second inning. With two outs, April Collins and Albritton singled to left. Then Johnson did the same thing, and Collins scored from second to make it 4-0.
Christian Brothers scored its only run in the top of the fourth. Allyson Grooms slapped a single to left to start the inning, was bunted to second, moved to third on Marie Joiner’s single to center and scored on an error, cutting VSU’s lead to 4-1.
The Blazers put the game away with five runs in the bottom of the fifth. Angela O’Connor led off with a single to left. Fran Johnson bunted to move O’Connor to second, and used her blazing speed to beat the throw to first. Sarah Vaughn came off the bench and lined a pinch hit single to center, driving in O’Connor. April Collins laid down a bunt, and like Fran Johnson two batters earlier, beat the throw to first, loading the bases. CBU pitcher Kim Adams put a pitch in the middle of the plate to Albritton, and the Blazer slugger made her pay, hitting a line drive off the Citizens Community Bank sign in left center. Fran Johnson and Vaughn scored, making it 7-1. Christian Brothers changed pitchers, then Collins ran home on a wild pitch. Morgan Johnson followed with a double over the left fielder’s head, and Albritton crossed home plate to give the Blazers a 9-1 lead. That ended the game, due to the mercy rule.
The two All-Americans at the top of the Blazers’ lineup had big games. Albritton went 3 for 4, scored two runs and drove in two more, while Morgan Johnson went 3 for 3 with a home run and four RBIs.
Steinhilber and Fran Johnson both went 2 for 3 and scored a run. Collins was 2 for 3 and scored two runs.
Hanna Lythberg pitched all five innings, and held Christian Brothers to just one run and two hits and struck out four batters. The freshman right-hander improved to 12-3 on the season.
Game 2: Valdosta State 10, Christian Brothers 3
The Blazers continued to pound the softball in game 2, hitting four home runs, getting 16 hits and crossing home plate 10 times.
Christian Brothers got a pair of runs in the top of the first. Grooms led off with a single to left, Nikki Story bunted and reached on an error and the two runners moved up on a wild pitch. Joiner’s single scored Grooms. One out later, Taylor Rosa-Ramon singled just in front of a sliding right fielder, and Story scored to give the Lady Buccaneers a 2-0 lead. But Blazer pitcher Brianna Hancock escaped further damage with a strikeout and a pop up to second.
That lead wouldn’t last long, because the Blazers scored three times in the bottom of the first. With one out, Morgan Johnson and Altman singled to center. Steinhilber hit a ground ball to second, but the second baseman’s throw pulled the shortstop off the bag, and the bases were loaded. Lindsey Hamlin singled up the middle, and Johnson and Altman scored to tie the game at 2-2. Then Kiley Rusen lined a double off the base of the fence in left center, and Steinhilber slid home to give VSU a 3-2 lead.
Morgan Johnson stepped up to the plate with two outs in the bottom of the second, and deposited another pitch into the Ashley Cinemas parking lot. Her solo home run gave the Blazers a 4-2 lead.
Christian Brothers scored again in the top of the third. Story, Joiner and Jennifer Gonzalez started the inning with singles, loading the bases. One out later, Emily Schmidt laid down a squeeze bunt, scoring Story to cut the Blazers’ lead to 4-3.
At that point, the Blazers only held a one-run lead. But Morgan Johnson and Steinhilber changed that in the bottom of the fourth.
After Collins walked and Albritton singled to start the fourth, Morgan Johnson came to the plate. She got a pitch to hit, and drilled it over the center field fence for a three-run homer, giving the Blazers a 7-3 lead.
After a pitching change and a pop-up to third, Steinhilber stepped into the batter’s box and hammered a pitch over the center field fence. The ball landed in nearly the exact same spot as Johnson’s homer had earlier in the inning, and it extended Valdosta State’s lead to 8-3.
VSU tacked on two more runs in the bottom of the sixth — thanks to Steinhilber — to complete the rout. With Morgan Johnson on first and one out, the senior catcher got a pitch she liked, and hit it over the fence in left field for a two-run homer, giving her team a 10-3 lead.
Morgan Johnson was a perfect 4 for 4 in game 2, with two home runs, four RBIs and four runs scored. Steinhilber went 2 for 4 with her two home runs, three runs scored and three RBIs. Hamlin had two hits and drove in two runs. Rusen was 2 for 3 with one RBI. Altman also had two hits.
Hancock (13-4) pitched a complete game, allowing three runs, two earned, and nine hits. She struck out two.
For Christian Brothers, Grooms, Joiner and Gonzalez had two hits each.
Valdosta State will travel to Southaven, Miss. later this week to participate in the Gulf South Conference tournament.