CULLMAN, AL- Any concerns that the Valdosta State softball team may have had about having two-and-a-half weeks off prior to the Gulf South Conference Tournament were quickly dissipated after the Blazers defeated both West Georgia, 7-1, and North Alabama, 6-3, on day one in Cullman, Ala.. The pair of victories pushed Valdosta State through as one of just two remaining undefeated teams in the tournament, the other being Alabama-Huntsville, who VSU will face on Friday.
A potential leadoff home run by Courtney Albritton in the first inning of game one was robbed by West Georgia’s center fielder Tiffany Strickland for the first out, but Shelby Altman made sure the Blazers got on the board anyway when she supplied VSU with a solo shot to dead center field in the ensuing at bat to give the Blazers an early 1-0 lead.
The score held for the next two innings until Blazer second baseman Chelsea Canara slapped an RBI single over a drawn in infield to score Albritton from third base, who reached earlier in the inning on a single back through the middle.
Albritton, who finished game one with a 3-for-4 effort, blasted her biggest hit of the day in the form of a three-run opposite field long ball to right field to open up a 5-0 lead in the fourth inning.
Sophomore Caitlyn Calhoun, who collected her eighth win of the season in game one of Thursday’s twin bill, delivered a stellar performance from the circle. She held the Wolves to just four hits in the game and missed the shutout by just one run, after Nicole Yancey smacked a solo shot to right field in the fifth.
The Blazers capitalized on two of West Georgia’s five errors in the game with two more runs in the sixth inning to put the game away. With runners on first and second base, Kiley Rusen clubbed an RBI base hit to center field to score Albritton, and Altman scored all the way from first base with some heads up base running after the Wolves executed a poor relay back into the infield.
In the second game of the day, the Blazers faced the Lions of North Alabama, and took another early lead thanks to a long ball off the bat of Rusen, which gave VSU a 1-0 lead in the first.
North Alabama took advantage of two rare errors by the Blazers in the bottom of the same inning, when Courtney Phillips reached on miscue by Shelby Altman and stole second base. UNA left fielder Chelsea Showers followed with a single back through the middle to plate Phillips from second, but game two starter Brianna Hancock limited the damage with three strikeouts in the inning to keep the score knotted up one apiece.
One inning later, the Lions took a one run lead on an Amy Carden RBI double to left center field, but both she and Kaylee Jones were left stranded in scoring position after Hancock induced a foulout to Phillips and a fly ball out to center field off the bat of Libby Olinger for the second and third outs of the half inning.
The Lions held their slim lead until the fourth inning when Fran Johnson singled to open up the frame before Morgan Butler sacrificed her at-bat with a perfectly placed bunt to move Johnson up to third base. With one away and the tying run sixty feet away, Head Coach Thomas Macera called on pinch hitter Halie Imler, who slapped a single along the chalk down the third baseline and past the Lions’ third baseman for the game-tying RBI hit.
Momentum continued through the half inning when Albritton reached two batters later after being hit by a pitch. With Imler and Albritton at second and first, respectively, Altman connected for a base hit to shallow center. Imler scored on the hit, and a cross-up between the shortstop and center fielder allowed an aggressive Albritton to score all the way from first base. The two additional runs gave the Blazers a 4-2 lead in the fourth.
North Alabama put together a big threat in the bottom half of the fifth inning, as they loaded the bases on two walks on a single, but Hancock escaped the jam though when she induced a two out grounder to Canara that ended the inning.
With the Blazers holding on to a 4-2 lead in the sixth, Showers blasted a home run over the left field wall and just beyond the reach of April Collins to cut the deficit to one. Following the long ball, Macera elected to bring on Calhoun to close out the inning, and the righty responded with the final two outs of the sixth that included a strikeout of UNA slugger Chloe Wolf with the tying run aboard.
Showers did a majority of the damage for UNA with a 4-for-4 outing that included two singles, a double, and the sixth inning round tripper.
Valdosta State’s offense came through with two valuable insurance runs in the top of the seventh, the first of which came on a frozen rope off the bat of Johnson that was too hot to handle for Showers in left field. The one hopper to the Lions’ left fielder skipped off of her glove and rolled all the way to the wall, which allowed Strickland to score all the way from first base. Imler delivered her second RBI single of the game later in the frame to give VSU their sixth and final run.
Hancock collected the win to improve her record to 18-5 on the year, while Calhoun’s late-inning effort notched the sophomore her first save of the 2014 season.
The Blazers improved to 38-12 on the season with the two victories and move on in the winners bracket to face the rival Chargers of Alabama-Huntsville at 12:00 p.m. EST.
Source: Valdosta State University Athletics