Salem, Va. - For the second straight season, the Valdosta State softball team opened up the NCAA National Championship Tournament with an extra inning battle. This year however, the outcome was different, as the Blazers bats came alive in the late innings to stage a nine inning, 8-5 win over the Warriors of Wayne State on Thursday night in Salem, Va..
The Blazers (46-14) trailed the Warriors (46-11) with one out in the top of the seventh inning, before VSU strung together three straight hits by Shelby Altman, Kiley Rusen, and Hannah Strickland to cut the deficit to 5-3. In the next at bat, Chelsea Canara, who also homered earlier in the contest, blistered a hopper to short that was mishandled by WSU's Gabby Williams, allowing another run to score. With Strickland representing the tying run at second, Fran Johnson belted one of her three hits on the day back through the middle to knot the contest up at 5-5 and force extra innings.
Two innings later, Johnson delivered again to put the Blazers on top 8-5 with a three-run moonshot to left field. The homer was the VSU right fielder's seventh of the season, and brought in both Rusen and Strickland, who reached on back-to-back singles to lead off the frame.
"Our team has so much heart, and we believe in each other so much. It wasn't just my hit, you know, we had to have people on," said Johnson. "This isn't just a one person game. Cat (Caitlyn Calhoun) pitched amazing after she came in, and we just fought. That's what we're known for."
The two homers by Canara and Johnson represented just the fifth and sixth of the season allowed by WSU pitcher Lyndsay Butler, who entered the National Tournament with a staggering 0.86 ERA on the season. Prior to facing the Blazers, the ace had allowed just 25 runs on the entire season. Valdosta State connected for 15 hits in the contest to put eight runs, all earned, on the redshirt freshman in Thursday nights victory.
Calhoun scored the victory in relief for VSU to improve her record to 11-4, while Butler suffered just her sixth loss of the year to fall to 25-6.
The win advanced the Blazers to a Friday night winner's bracket contest, to be played at 6:30 p.m. at Moyer Sports Complex against the winner of Thursday's nights final contest between Southern Oklahoma and Dixie State.