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February 3, 2013

VSU softball opens title defense with pair of wins over Southern Arkansas

Albritton hits two homers, Blazers win 6-0, 7-3

PENSACOLA, Fla. — Valdosta State started the 2013 season the same way the Blazers ended 2012. In the 2012 NCAA Division II National Championship game, Courtney Albritton led off with a home run. She did the same Saturday in the season opener against Southern Arkansas. Valdosta State’s heavy bats continued throughout the day for five home runs en route to 6-0 and 7-3 victories over the Muleriders to start the season 2-0.

Albritton’s early homer set the tone for VSU. Morgan Johnson joined Albritton to make it four home runs on the day for the deadly duo. Johnson hit her first in the seventh inning of game one and they both knocked one out in the sixth inning of game two. Hannah Strickland jumped in on the action with fifth inning bomb in the opener.

Playing shortstop to start 2013, Albritton finished with five RBI on the day, three in the first game, and two runs on a three of eight performance at the play. Johnson went four for seven with two RBI and three runs scored while younger sister Fran Johnson, playing right field, finished three for five with an RBI and two runs scored.

In the first game, with a 1-0 run already in her pocket, pitcher Brianna Hancock and the Blazer defense shut Southern Arkansas down for no hits in the first three innings. By the time the Muleriders could tally a hit, VSU had already knocked the ball four times.

Hancock finished the game with five strikeouts and only allowed three hits in a full seven innings, facing 24 batters.

The Blazers would not score again in the opener until the fifth inning. Southern Arkansas walked speedy Fran Johnson and it proved to be a mistake. Johnson stole second and scored on an Albritton single up the middle.

After a quick three outs for SAU in the fifth, VSU put up two more runs, coming on a Strickland homer. Three more outs came and went for the Muleriders, but the Blazers closed out the seventh strong with two more runs. Morgan Johnson struck her first home run of the season, and then Shelby Altman scored after reaching on a walk.

Five runs in the final three innings were too much for Southern Arkansas to overcome. The Muleriders made a little bit of headway in the second game of the day, but not enough to knock off the Blazers.

Hanna Lythberg started the second game in the pitcher’s circle and put in five innings of work. She finished with five strikeouts and gave up one earned run. Caitlyn Calhoun carried the Blazers out in the final two inning with four strikeouts and no hits.

The battery provided more run support in the second game that turned out to be needed. The Blazers built up a quick 3-0 lead in the first two innings, but Southern Arkansas struck three runs in the fourth inning to tie it.

Johnson started VSU’s offense in game two with a single through the left side. Altman and Kiley Rusen followed with consecutive singles, then Karson King walked with the bases loaded to score Johnson. Strickland struck a sacrifice fly to right field to score Altman next.

Lythberg had a strong second inning, forcing a groundout and striking two out to bring the VSU bats back to the plate. Angela O’Conner led off with a single. Next, Ashley Steinhilber tried to use a sacrifice bunt to move O’Conner to second, but Southern Arkansas giftwrapped an error to allow Steinhilber to reach.

O’Conner was thrown out at home, but Steinhilber scored the next play when Albritton put the ball in play.

After a scoreless third, the Blazers gave Southern Arkansas a few gifts of their own. The Muleriders scored three runs on two infield errors. However, VSU answered in the fourth to stay in control of the game when Fran Johnson knocked in O’Conner, who led the inning with a double down the right line.

Both teams survived errors in the fifth, then VSU put the game out of reach in the sixth. Johnson legged out a single to the pitcher followed by Albritton’s second long ball of the day. At that, the Southern Arkansas coach was ejected. Morgan Johnson added an exclamation point with a solo shot to put the game out of reach. Three up, three down for the Muleriders in the bottom of the seventh.

Valdosta State will look to keep the early momentum in the 2013 season with a doubleheader against Young Harris at 10 a.m. tomorrow.

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