No. 3 Blazers ride 11-game winning streak into home series with West Alabama

Shane Thomas | The Valdosta Daily TimesValdosta State pitcher Morgan Hill throws during Game 2 of a non-conference doubleheader against Georgia Southwestern Saturday at Steel’s Diamond at Blazer Park.

VALDOSTA –– Coming off a thrilling sweep of Delta State last weekend, the No. 3 Valdosta State softball team returns home to host West Alabama for a three-game series beginning Saturday, Apr. 10 at 11 a.m. at Steel's Diamond at Blazer Park.

The Blazers are 22-3 on the year and a Gulf South Conference-best 16-2 in league play this season. VSU has won 11-straight games dating back to a 13-2 victory over Union in five innings on Mar. 14. The 11-game streak is tied for the fifth-longest currently in NCAA Division II. University of Indianapolis has won 15-straight games. Colorado Christian is second with 13-straight victories, while Trevecca Nazarene and Sonoma State each have won 12-straight. Sonoma State isn't playing this spring therefore its winning streak was from last season. McKendree (Ill.) also has won its last 11 games.

Fans can access links to live stats, audio/video streaming, ticket information and more at vstateblazers.com on the softball schedule page. The games will be broadcast on the radio on 92.1 WDDQ FM with Matt Malone having the call for Saturday's doubleheader and Herb Reinhard on Sunday. The series is scheduled for a doubleheader on Saturday, Apr. 10, followed by a single game Sunday, Apr. 11 at 1 p.m.

Due to the COVID-19 Pandemic, there will be limited capacity at Steel's Diamond at Blazer Park this season. A hard capacity of 180 (one hundred eighty) fans will be admitted to each home game. Seating includes 90 marked seats available in the grandstand and 90 marked seats in the lawn outside the outfield fence. Fans are encouraged to come to Steel's Diamond at Blazer Park early to ensure admittance. Gates will open one (1) hour before each game, adult general admission tickets are $5 and youth/senior tickets are $3. Fans are encouraged to bring a lawn chair for seating outside the outfield fence. No umbrellas or lawn chairs will be allowed in the grandstands. No further entry will be allowed once capacity is reached. No pets are allowed, including emotional support animals, except service animals with proper documentation. Spectators should enter through the front gate of the ballpark. Masks must be worn at all times while at Steel's Diamond at Blazer Park.

The Blazers are coming off a hard-fought series sweep at Delta State. VSU battled back for much of the series to claim all three victories. The Blazers scored six runs in the top of the eighth for a 10-6 victory in the second game on Friday, while it battled back from a 3-0 deficit early for a 6-4 victory in the opener that day. In the finale, VSU trailed 8-7 heading into the sixth inning, but scored five runs over the final two frames for a 12-8 victory for the series sweep. In that game, VSU scored multiple runs in each of the final four innings of the game.

VSU hit a blistering .381 for the series on 37 of 97 from the dish with six doubles, five home runs, 28 runs scored and 26 RBI. The team slugged .598 and reached base at a .436 clip with 11 walks. VSU was 2 for 2 in stolen bases, while recording two sacrifice flies and six sacrifice hits.

Junior Nicole Pennington has a team-high six hits for the series on 6 of 12 from the dish with one double, one home run and three RBI, while scoring four runs. She slugged .833 and reached base at a .571 clip with two walks. Pennington continued her impressive season as she now has reached base in all 25 games this season and 27-straight dating back to last season. Pennington currently has a team-high eight-game hitting streak, as she had a 12-game hitting streak earlier this season. Senior Lacey Crandall was 4 of 8 from the dish with two home runs, three runs scored and three RBI as she slugged a team-high 1.250 for the series. Crandall reached base at a .636. clip with three walks and no strikeouts. She had two sacrifice hits and recorded 18 putouts in 21 chances with no errors.

The Blazers weren't as sharp in the circle as they had been in previous series' this season, but were able to get the big outs when needed. Sophomore Samantha Richards went 1-0 in two appearances and two starts with one complete game. She had a 3.89 ERA in nine innings, allowing 12 hits, eight runs – five earned, walked one and fanned eight. Freshman Morgan Hill went 1-0 with a 0.00 ERA in 8.2 innings, allowing 10 hits, four unearned runs, walked none and fanned eight. Senior Avery Lamb was 1-0 in two appearances for four innings.

VSU had a 2.86 ERA for the series in 22 innings, allowing 25 hits, 16 runs – nine earned, walked four and fanned 18 as DSU hit .287 against it. The Blazers had five errors for the series, while recording two double plays.

Looking at the GSC standings, Auburn Montgomery and West Georgia sit three games back of VSU at 13-5 in league play. AUM is 21-5 overall, while UWG is 17-8. Alabama Huntsville and West Florida each are 15-6 in league play. VSU hosts UWG Apr. 17-18 for a three-game series to conclude the regular season home slate for the Blazers. The Blazers then finish the regular season with road series' at Christian Brothers (Apr. 24-5) and at Alabama Huntsville (May 1-2).

This marks the first time West Alabama has visited VSU since 2017 when the Blazers swept the Tigers. The teams haven't met in the regular season since 2018, while UWA won 2-1 in the GSC Tournament in Pensacola, Fla., on May 2, 2019, in the previous meeting. UWA snapped a 16-game winning streak by the Blazers with the victory in the conference tournament. VSU leads the all-time series 76-24 and 33-7 in Valdosta. The Blazers have outscored UWA 563-264 for the series and have won 28 of the last 30 games in the series. UWA has not won in Valdosta since Mar. 20, 2010, in a 4-0 victory as the teams split a doubleheader that day.

UWA enters with a 13-15 record overall and a 9-12 mark in the GSC. The Tigers won two of three games at Montevallo last weekend. UM won the opener 7-5, while UWA battled back for an 8-7 victory and an 11-0 in five innings. The Tigers are hitting .295 for the season with 220 hits, 172 runs scored, 41 doubles, five triples, 16 home runs and 149 RBI. UWA improved to 4-8 this season on the road after the series at UM.

The Tigers are slugging .428 and reaching base at a .396 clip with 96 walks and 35 hit batters. UWA is 67 of 77 in stolen bases for the season. In the circle, UWA has a 4.66 ERA in 183.1 innings, allowing 225 hits, 122 runs – 97 earned, walked 97 and fanned 88 as teams are hitting .299 against it. The Tigers have six complete games with one shutout and two saves.

Individually, Peyton Coots leads the team with a .379 batting average on 22 of 58. She has scored nine runs with four doubles, three home runs and 13 RBI. Kacy Noland is hitting .365 for the season in 25 starts.  Noland has 19 hits, 11 runs scored, six doubles and nine RBI. LP Trammell has a team-high eight doubles, 17 runs scored, five home runs, and 25 RBI.

In the circle, Noland is 6-7 with a 3.74 ERA in 67.1 innings, allowing 76 hits, 47 runs – 36 earned, walked 23 and fanned 36. Hannah Mynard is second in strikeouts with 15 and is 1-2 with a 5.08 ERA in 30.1 innings for second on the team in innings pitched. Breanna Fortenberry is 2-0 with a 3.09 ERA in 22.2 innings.

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).

Pennington leads the team and the GSC with a .471 average with 33 hits, 35 runs scored and four doubles along with her 12 home runs. She has walked a team-high 23 times and been plunked three times for the season. She has reached base in all 25 games this season and 27-straight games dating back to last season. Currently she has an eight-game hitting streak to lead the team. Pennington and Robb are 14th nationally in RBI with 34 each to lead the GSC, while Pennington is 14th nationally in runs per game at 1.40 to lead the conference.

Richards is fifth nationally in complete games (12) and fourth in games started (16). She is 29th nationally in ERA at 1.00, while she is ninth nationally in appearances with 19. She averages 8.3 strikeouts per game for third in the GSC, while she is 13th in WHIP at 0.47 and leads the league in walks allowed per seven innings at just a 0.79 clip. For the season, she is 14-2 with four shutouts and one combined shutout along with two saves. She has pitched a team-high 97.2 innings, allowed 61 hits, 23 runs – 14 earned, walked 11 and fanned 116 as teams are hitting .177 against her.

Freshman Aniston Gano is second in average at a .400 clip on 26 of 65 from the dish with 15 runs scored, four doubles, one triple, six home runs and 26 RBI. She has walked 17 times for third on the team. M. Hill is second in home runs with ten, while she is hitting .376 on 32 of 85 from the plate. She has scored 32 runs with 26 RBI, while she is a perfect 13 of 13 in stolen bases for 38th nationally. She is 4-1 with a 1.38 ERA in 40.2 innings of work, allowing 32 hits, 19 runs – eight earned, walked seven and fanned 39 as teams are hitting .211 against her. 

Robb is third on the team in average at a .382 clip with 29 hits, 20 runs scored, six doubles, nine home runs and 34 RBI. She is 6 of 6 in stolen bases and walked 12 times. Overall, the Blazers have six everyday starters hitting over .300 for the season as the team is hitting .343 for 20th nationally and second in the GSC. VSU is sixth nationally in sacrifice bunts with 27 for second in the GSC and 24th in stolen baes (49).  VSU is fourth nationally in walks with 123.

Following the series against West Alabama, VSU travels to Albany State for a doubleheader Tuesday at 4 p.m., and then returns home to host rival West Georgia in a three-game series next weekend for Senior Weekend.

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