Valdosta State continued its undefeated roll through the Gulf South Conference Tournament with wins against Alabama-Huntsville (1-0) and West Alabama (7-6). The Blazers played 15 innings, going to an eighth inning against West Alabama, to improve to 47-3 on the year and advance to the GSC Championship game against Delta State.
In the second game of the day, senior shortstop Marti Littlefield knocked in two runs to claim a new GSC record for career RBIs. She now stands at 234 RBIs for her career. Valdosta State needed both of her RBIs on Saturday.
Courtney Albritton led the Blazers in hitting for the day with a six for eight performance, striking two RBI and scoring two runs. Samantha Posey was four for eight with a run scored and an RBI while Natalia Morozova went three for seven with a run. Marti Littlefield was the only other Blazer above .300 on the day with a two for six outing with two RBI and a double.
Alanna Hadley made appearances in both games, pitching a complete game two-hit shutout against the powerful Alabama-Huntsville lineup and earning the win with three innings pitched against West Alabama. She only gave up one run and five hits while walking four and striking out 10 in 10.0 innings. Brianna Hancock and Courtney Gunby also made appearances against the Tigers. They combined for five innings and four strikeouts. Hancock allowed a walk and the duo combined to allow five earned runs and eight hits.
Albritton was the only Blazer with multiple hits against UAH, finishing two for three. She singled to start the game and scored on a Posey single up the middle for the only run of the game. The Blazers had five hits against All-GSC First Teamer Whitney Gilbert, but the initial run proved to bell VSU needed to get the victory.
Alabama-Huntsville’s best chance to score came in the sixth inning with a runner at second. Sam Deep was pinch running for Stephanie Needham. Kathryn Whitlock knocked a single into right field that forced Clare Wamsley to charge forward. With Deep rounding third, Wamsley rifled the ball from right field to Ashley Steinhilber at home plate. Steinhilber turned to her right and tagged Deep just before she scored to keep the Chargers at bay. After that, Hadley retired four consecutive hitters to secure the win between the only unbeaten teams left in the GSC Tournament.
The second game against West Alabama was more like fans expected from the UAH game. Albritton, against scored the first run after singling up the middle. She moved to second on a Morgan Johnson sacrifice and third on a single from Posey. Littlefield reached after that on a fielder’s choice while Albritton scored for the early 1-0 lead.
Albritton, the GSC Player and Freshman of the Year, knocked four singles against the Tigers with three stolen bases and two RBI.
With the Blazers nursing a 1-0 lead, West Alabama struck in the third inning. Morgan Morrison knocked a three-run homer down the right line to give the Tigers a 3-1 advantage.
Valdosta State quickly answered with a five-run third inning. Johnson started with a walk followed by Posey singling on a bunt. Littlefield plated the two runner for her historic record breaking RBI with a double to left center, but, trying to stretch a double to a triple, she was thrown out. However, Littlefield was able to tie the game at 3-3 with those two RBI.
After her, Morozova singled up the middle followed by a walk for Steinhilber. Angela O’Connor was next to walk to load the bases. Wamsley tallied an RBI with a sacrifice fly to right field to plate Morozova and take the lead. West Alabama walked April Hutchens next to load the bases yet again. That’s when Albritton came through with one of her four second-game singles to plate two more runs and give VSU a 6-3 lead.
The Blazers controlled the game from there until the top of the sixth inning. The UWA first baseman started the inning with a single up the middle followed by a walk for the catcher Taylor Beck. The second baseman reached safely on a bunt while Rebecca Schick, the first baseman scored. Taylor Miller, the shortstop, singled up the middle to plate two more runs and tie the game at 6-6.
After a scoreless sixth for VSU and scoreless seventh for both teams, the pressure was on in the extra inning. Hadley struck out two players in the top of the eighth and forced a flyout from another Tiger.
In the bottom of the eighth, the Blazers made their move. Morozova singled to start the inning and moved to second on a Steinhilber sacrifice bunt. She advance to third on a wild pitch to get in position to score the winning run.
With just one out, a squeeze play was in play for O’Connor, but instead Head Coach Thomas Macera gave the freshman the green light to swing. As O’Connor continued to swing away, pushing West Alabama’s top pitcher, Kristen Skinner, to a full count. It was at that point, after West Alabama’s corner infielders had backed off that Macera put on the squeeze.
O’Connor laid down a beautiful bunt that just kept rolling as she ran to first, but more importantly, as Morozova scored the winning run to ensure VSU’s appearance in the GSC Championship game at noon Eastern time Sunday. Delta State, the only GSC team to beat the Blazers this year, upset Alabama-Huntsville in the second game of the day to advance to the championship game.
The Blazers will fight to win its fourth consecutive GSC Championship today. If the Blazers fall in the first game, they will play Delta State in a second deciding game at 2:30 p.m. Both games will be available for live video at the GSC website, www.gscsports.org.