Valdosta, Ga. - Home runs were the order of the day for the Valdosta State softball team on Thursday, as the Blazers left the yard nine different times at Steel's Diamond to claim a 9-1, 16-1 doubleheader sweep of the Albany State Golden Rams.
Blazer right fielder Fran Johnson sparked the game one massacre with a bomb to left center field in the bottom of the first that accounted for three of Valdosta State's five first-inning runs. Kiley Rusen and Hannah Strickland were responsible for the other two runs in the early part of the inning, as the pair each plated a run with RBI singles back through the middle.
"I tend to overthink things in the box sometimes," said Johnson when asked about her five RBI effort at the plate on Thursday. "I tried to really just relax and hit the ball where it was pitched. I wanted to try and simplify things today, and luckily that approach paid off for me."
Paid off indeed. Along with the five runs batted in on the day, the junior hit safely four times in six trips with two home runs and three runs scored.
To go along with the five-run first in game one, the Blazers capped off the abbreviated five-inning affair in the fourth inning with four more runs. April Collins and Courtney Albritton teamed up for back-to-back singles to ignite the rally, before Shelby Altman and Rusen put the exclamation point on the inning with back-to-back home runs that put the game out of Albany State's reach at 9-1. The blasts by Altman and Rusen marked the third time this season the duo has delivered consecutive home runs in an inning.
The Blazer bats continued to sizzle in game two, despite the brief intermission between games. Rusen struck again in the bottom of the first with her second home run of the day to drive in Altman, who reached in the previous at bat after she was hit by a pitch. The long ball was Rusen's eighth of the year, and gave Valdosta State the early 2-0 lead.
The offensive avalanche continued over the course of the next three innings as VSU scored five runs in the second inning, five runs in the third, and four runs in the fourth. The tally boosted the Blazers to a 16-1 lead, and resulted in another game that ended early due to the mercy rule.
Leading the charge offensively in game two for Valdosta State was Altman, who blasted long balls in both the second and third innings to lift her total on the day to three and her season total to 18.
Altman's 3-for-4, eight RBI effort on the day was just part of the Blazers' assault on the Golden Rams' pitching staff, as the team collectively put up 25 hits over the course of the two games, 12 of which were for extra bases.
In reply to being asked about the importance of strong play on Thursday before going into the weekend series against Gulf South Conference foe West Georgia, Altman replied, "This was a big day for us where we needed to have each other's backs and just come out here and play like we know how to play. We just want to carry over the way we played today into the weekend, because right now every game is a critical one for us."
Overshadowed by the outpouring of the Blazer offense were two strong pitching performances by Brianna Hancock (15-5) and Caitlyn Calhoun (6-3), who gave up just two hits each on the day and held the Golden Rams to a single run in each game of the twin bill.
The pair of victories put the Blazers back on track and lifted their season record to 33-12, while the Golden Rams fell to 16-22 overall.
Albritton's chase for the GSC home run record continued in her final at-bat of the day, when she lifted her 56th career home run out of the reach of Albany State's Candace Blair and over the fence in right center field. The home run tied Albritton with Marti Littlefield for the Valdosta State career record and pulled her to within one of the GSC record holder.
As luck would have it, West Georgia's Nicole Yancey hit her 57th career home run on Wednesday to tie record-holder Stephanie Pinto (2004-07) on the GSC all-time home run list. She and Albritton will square off against one another this weekend in Carrollton, Ga., as the two continue their chase for 58.
The three-game set against the Wolves will kick off on Saturday at 1:00 p.m., and can be followed via live stats at www.vstateblazers.com.