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April 27, 2013

Blazers beat No. 2 Statesmen

VALDOSTA — Valdosta State’s baseball team played one of its best games of the season Friday, and defeated Delta State, the No. 2 team in Division II, 8-5.

The Blazers pounded out 15 hits, scored eight runs and got a strong pitching performance from Pete Whittingslow, and handed Delta only its sixth loss of the season.

“Delta State has a great program. They are the best-coached, fundamentally-sound team that we’ll play all year,” Valdosta State head coach Greg Guilliams said. “(This) was a big win for us.”

“I think our guys just came out and were really focused,” Guilliams added. “We got a few hits (early) and they got some confidence and it just kind of continued. ... There were a lot of guys that contributed. It was a team effort.”

The Blazers (28-14, 13-9 in the Gulf South Conference) and the Statesmen (37-6-1, 18-3-1) will play a doubleheader today at Billy Grant Field. The first game will begin at 1 p.m.

Valdosta State grabbed the early lead with a run in the first inning and two more in the second. With one out in the first, Ryan McClellan and Bryant Hayman singled, then two batters later, Michael Gouge doubled to left, scoring McClellan and giving the Blazers a 1-0 lead.

Cooper Lemonds led off the bottom of the second with a single up the middle, was bunted to second and took third on a ground out. After Nick Rodda walked, McClellan singled down the third base line, driving in Lemonds. Hayman followed with a single to right, bringing home Rodda and giving the Blazers a 3-0 lead.

Delta State tied the score with three runs in the top of the third. The Statesmen loaded the bases with two outs, after an infield single by Kasey Hinton and two hit-by-pitches. Then Whittingslow walked Tyler Aldridge, scoring Hinton. Daniel Hoover, VSU’s second baseman, fielded Ben Kingsley’s ground ball on the run, but Aldridge beat his off-balance throw to second, and Josh Crowdus scored. Then Sam Kidd ran home on a wild pitch, tying the score at 3-3.

But Valdosta State quickly regained the lead in the bottom of the third. With one out, Jamie McMillan walked and Lemonds singled to right. Two batters later, Hoover singled up the middle, and McMillan scored from second. Rodda lined a single just inside the third base bag, driving in Lemonds and giving the Blazers a 5-3 lead.

Delta State scored a run in the fourth. With runners at second and third and one out, Crowdus grounded out to second, scoring Brent Langston to make it 5-4.

But after that, Whittingslow was superb, holding the nation’s No. 2 team scoreless for the next four innings.

“I told Pete I thought that was one of the best games I ever saw him pitch, because he gave up some runs early, but he kept his composure and he went back on the mound, and after about the fourth inning, he

settled in. I thought the last 4 1/3 innings, he was pretty dominant,” Guilliams said.

VSU added to its lead in the bottom of the fifth. With the bases loaded and two outs, Hayman singled to left, bringing home Hoover to make it 6-4.

With one out in the sixth, Jake Montgomery singled and went to third when McMillan followed with a single to right. Lemonds walked to load the bases. Will Wilson hit a fly ball to center, and Montgomery tagged up and scored to give VSU a 7-4 lead.

McClellan scored the Blazers’ final run in the bottom of the seventh. He drew a one-out walk, moved up on a wild pitch and scored from second on Jake Fields’ single up the middle, giving his team an 8-4 lead.

Delta threatened in the top of the ninth, loading the bases with one out. Jordan Chovanec’s single to center scored Ricky Velez, making it 8-5. But after Chovanec’s hit, Guilliams pulled Whittingslow, who had thrown 123 pitches, and brought in his closer, Benjamin Weil. Weil got the only batter he faced to ground into a 4-6-3 double play to end the game.

Whittingslow (6-1) gave up five runs and six hits in 8 1/3 innings, and struck out three. Weil earned his fifth save of the season.

At the plate, Hayman went 3 for 5 and drove in two runs. Lemonds was 3 for 4 and scored two runs. Rodda and McClellan both had a pair of hits and an RBI. McClellan scored two runs, while Rodda had one run.

Josh Branstetter (7-2) took the loss, allowing six runs and 12 hits in five innings. No Statesman had more than one hit.

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