Moving on up: Blazer softball moves to third in latest NFCA Top 25

Shane Thomas | The Valdosta Daily TimesValdosta State pitcher Samantha Richards throws during Game 1 of a non-conference doubleheader against Georgia Southwestern Saturday at Steel’s Diamond at Blazer Park. Richards pitched a complete game shutout in Game 1, striking out eight batters while allowing two hits and two walks in VSU’s 4-0 win.

VALDOSTA –– With an 11-game winning streak, the Valdosta State softball team moved up one spot to third this week in the latest National Fastpitch Coaches Association (NFCA) Top 25.

Augustana (S.D.) takes over the top spot in the rankings with a 17-3 record, while North Georgia fell to No. 2 with an 18-2 mark. VSU sits third with a 22-3 record. Augustana garnered 10 of the 16, first-place votes, while UNG had four. VSU and No. 4 Texas A&M-Commerce each had a first-place nod. UT Tyler rounds out the top five.

South Region foe Rollins remained sixth this week, followed by Indianapolis (Ind.), Lincoln Memorial (Tenn.), Young Harris (Ga.) and West Texas A&M rounded out the top ten. Fellow Gulf South Conference foe Alabama Huntsville is 15th this week, while West Florida is 21st. Saint Leo sits 25th for the final team in the rankings from the South Region. Auburn Montgomery is among others receiving votes this week.

The Blazers return home after a hard-fought series sweep at Delta State last weekend running their winning streak to 11 games for the fifth-longest active streak in NCAA Division II. This week, VSU battles West Alabama in a three-game, Gulf South Conference series, beginning Saturday at 1 p.m. for a doubleheader, followed by a single game Sunday at 1 p.m., at Steel's Diamond at Blazer Park. VSU leads the GSC standings by three games over AUM with a 16-2 mark heading into the weekend series.  AUM is 13-5 in league play this season.

Offensively the Blazers have been on fire this season as the team leads the nation in home runs as a team (50) and junior Nicole Pennington is second nationally with 12 home runs on the year as she sits one back of the national leader (Faith Willenbrock, Millersville). Additionally, freshman Morgan Hill is fourth nationally with ten round-trippers and sophomore Kiley Robb sits just outside the top ten at 12th with nine dingers on the year. VSU has the top three home run hitters in the GSC.

As a team, the Blazers are fourth nationally in on base average at a .453 clip for the season, while they are sixth in scoring at 7.8 runs per game.  VSU is third nationally in slugging percentage (.627), sixth in total runs (195) and fourth in walks (123).  Not only has the offense been sound, but so has the pitching staff as the Blazers boast a 7.39 strikeout-to-walk ratio for fourth nationally, while they are fourth nationally in WHIP (0.82) and tenth in ERA (1.46).

Along with the outstanding home run performances this season, Pennington is seventh in slugging percentage at a 1.043 clip and ninth in on base average at a 6.15 clip. In the circle, sophomore Samantha Richards is tenth nationally in strikeout-to-walk ratio at a 10.55. clip, while she is fifth nationally in strikeouts with 116 and third in victories with 14 (14-2). Her 0.74 WHIP is good for 13th nationally and she is fourth nationally in complete games (12).

Come out and support the Blazers in a key Gulf South Conference series versus West Alabama this weekend. Check back with later this week for a complete preview of the series, along with links to live stats, audio/video streaming, ticket information and more.

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