christian.malone@gaflnews.com



VALDOSTA -- How do you get to Millington, Tenn.? With a doubleheader sweep.

Valdosta State sewed up a berth in the Gulf South Conference baseball tournament when it swept a doubleheader from GSC East Division champion North Alabama Saturday, while West Florida lost twice to West Georgia.

The Blazers (37-17, 12-8) will now travel to Millington, north of Memphis, on Saturday for the conference tournament. They'll face Delta State at 8:30 p.m. ET Saturday.

"I am plum proud of this team," Valdosta State head coach Tommy Thomas said. "For us to think that we could win our way into the conference tournament by sweeping a doubleheader from a team as successful as North Alabama... is not a predictable thing. It's not something you'd predict.

"At this point in the season, I couldn't be more proud of my team. We did it against the team at the top, North Alabama."

John Rose's complete-game shutout gave VSU the first game, 6-0. The Blazers came back to pull out a 2-1 victory behind a combined seven-hitter from Braxton Fernald and Corey Wachman.

The Lions (36-14, 13-5) entered the game hitting .369 and averaging 8.3 runs per game. But against right-handers Rose, Fernald and Wachman, they managed only one run and 14 hits in 16 innings of baseball. Good pitching beats good hitting, indeed.

"What a whale of a game John Rose pitched," Thomas said. "You don't shut out that team without doing something special. And then Braxton came in (in Game 2) and just fought his way out of trouble, inning after inning after inning. You look at the scoreboard, and there's all those zeroes, and the one. And then Corey Wachman came in and did his thing.

"What a great job the pitching did."

Rose (6-4) struck out 10 and held UNA to seven hits. For the first five innings, he was locked in a pitcher's duel with UNA's Tatum Brown (8-3) before getting some late insurance.

In the second inning, Josh Grube, who'd led off with a single, came home on John Martin's fly ball to left, giving VSU a 1-0 lead.

Rose took a line drive off his foot in the top of the third, but stayed in. The injury affected his command for a few batters, but Rose was able to get through it. The Lions loaded the bases with no outs in the fourth, but Rose responded with some of his best pitching, striking out Brock Beck and Adam Wheeler and getting Brandon Kizer to fly out.

The score remained 1-0 until the bottom of the sixth. With two on, Jay Berryman ripped a double off the Kentucky Fried Chicken sign in left center, plating Grube and Watson. Tim Kelly later singled home Berryman, making it 4-0.

In the seventh, Grube lined an RBI triple to center, then scored on a passed ball, giving the Blazers a 6-0 lead.

During Game 1, updated scores from the West Florida-West Georgia game in Carrollton were announced every couple innings. UWG scored eight runs in the first, and then maintained the lead. When the game ended, with West Georgia winning 14-4, VSU knew it was one victory (or a West Florida loss) from getting a berth to Millington.

They got both.

Fernald (8-1) did his part on the mound in Game 2. But UNA's Josh Brandon (7-2) was equally tough.

Valdosta State again took a 1-0 lead with a run in the second. Martin and Berryman started the second with singles, then Kelly drilled a double to center to score Martin. But Brandon escaped the jam with a double play.

North Alabama got the run back in the fourth. Bowden singled, moved up on a wild pitch and a groundout, and scored on another wild pitch.

The score could have been much higher, but each pitcher kept getting out



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Blazers



of jams. Fernald stranded runners in scoring position in the first, second, third, and fifth. VSU left runners in scoring position in every inning.

But there was one runner the Blazers didn't strand. In the bottom of the fifth, Simpson led off with a double into the left field corner, and was bunted to third. Then Watson ripped a double into right-center, and Simpson trot





ted home with the go-ahead run.

But UNA wasn't defeated yet. The Lions put runners on first and third with one out. At that point, Thomas went to his relief ace. Wachman got Jonas Bailey to pop up to first, then blew a fastball by Beck to end the inning. Wachman then slammed the door in the seventh, striking out the side for his team-record 10th save.

"At this point in time, it's a nice, nice accomplishment (for) Valdosta State baseball," Thomas said.

Valdosta State and North Alabama finish the series at 2 p.m. today at Billy Grant Field. Today will be both Senior Day and Fan Appreciation Day.

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