Valdosta Daily Times

May 18, 2013

Blazers take 1-0 series lead

VSU beats UAH 5-3, one win away from advancing to national championships

Ed Hooper
The Valdosta Daily Times

VALDOSTA — Angela O’Connor launched a pinch-hit two-run home run over the left-field fence, tying the game against Alabama-Huntsville in the bottom of the sixth inning, and sparking the Blazers and their fans along the way.

The home run was the start to a five-run, six-hit inning for Valdosta State, as the Blazers went on to secure a 5-3 game-one victory over the Lady Chargers Friday night at Steel’s Diamond at Blazer Park.

“We had chances earlier but just couldn’t get that timely hit,” Valdosta State head coach Thomas Macera said. “That is the way it goes and that is what we always talk about — is just putting hits together at the right time. We got the big home run and it rolled from there.”

O’Connor’s home run to left field changed the momentum of the game, putting the Blazers onto the scoreboard. It was her first homer of the season and the fifth of her career.

“I wasn’t thinking for once, I wasn’t over thinking,” O’Connor said. “I just knew she was going to pitch me inside, so I stepped up off the plate....It just looked fat to me.”

The Blazers followed up O’Connor’s game-tying home run with a pair of singles from Kiley Rusen and Sarah Vaughn before Fran Johnson cleared the bases with a one-out double to right center. The Blazers led 4-2.

Then, after a single from Hannah Strickland, Courtney Albritton hit into left field, scoring Johnson from third base and making the score 5-2.

Clearly, O’Connor’s home run got the Blazers charged, as Macera had hoped.

“We’re a hitting team,” Macera said. “Once somebody starts, we just fall into place. It just takes someone to get us going.”

Now, Valdosta State will host Alabama-Huntsville in game two of the South Super Regional today at 1 p.m. The Blazers need one win to advance to a third NCAA Championship Tournament in the last four years, and second in a row.

Alabama-Huntsville will need to sweep the Blazers — which would include a win in the ‘if necessary’ game at 3 p.m. VSU hasn’t been swept at home since April 2011, when the Blazers lost a pair of games to UAH.

“There is less pressure in that first game (today),” Macera said. “Huntsville is Huntsville, they aren’t going to lay down. I think it takes a little bit of pressure off. You can play a little bit looser and it works to your advantage. All we can do is come back (today) and keep doing what we are doing.”

Alabama-Huntsville took a 2-0 lead through the first two innings, despite getting just one hit off VSU starter Brianna Hancock.

Hancock issued three walks in the first inning before UAH scored its only run of the frame off an illegal pitch.

Then in the second, UAH scored its only run off an error by VSU shortstop Shelby Altman.

From there, Hancock was as good as they come, holding UAH to two hits through the next four innings.

She then allowed one run off a pair of hits in the top of the seventh, but held on for the final out, finishing the game allowing just four hits.

“She pitched a four-hitter against Huntsville,” Macera said. “If not the best, one of the best, hitting teams in the country. I think they hit as good as us, or we hit as good as them, and Bri held them to four hits. That is phenomenal....She is pitching better. Both of our pitchers have gotten better over the course of the season. We just have to hope she can keep it going.”

NOTES: Friday’s announced attendance was 762, the second largest crowd in school-history....Prior to the start of Friday’s game, five Alabama-Huntsville players introduced themselves to VSU head coach Thomas Macera, giving him a gift bag for his daughter, who has been ill in recent weeks. Macera spoke with the players for a brief moment before player warmups. His daughter, and wife, were both in attendance Friday night....With the win, Valdosta State is now 3-2 against UAH this season, including winners of the last two meetings...Today’s games will air live on The Jock 1150 AM, 96.1 FM. They will also air live on www.vstateblazers.tv.