SOUTHAVEN, Miss. – Valdosta State played two of the best games fans have seen from the team all season Saturday. The Blazers showed off some excellent defense in a nine-inning 2-1 loss to Arkansas-Monticello to start the day, then showed resiliency in beating Alabama-Huntsville for the first time this season by a score of 4-2.
As the Gulf South Conference Tournament is a double elimination tournament, the Blazers were not eliminated after the loss to Arkansas-Monticello, but will have to beat the Cotton Blossoms twice Sunday to claim the team’s third consecutive Gulf South Conference Championship.
VSU pitching again proved to be the star for Valdosta State while April Hutchens came through with a big two RBI double to claim a 3-0 lead against Alabama-Huntsville in the fourth inning. Morgan Johnson, Melessa Jackson and Marti Littlefield also finished the day with two hits like Hutchens while Natalia Morozova and Samantha Posey each notched an RBI in addition to Hutchens’ two.
Fans could be in for a treat Sunday if Saturday’s UAM/VSU game was a precursor of events to come. Arkansas-Monticello and Valdosta State played to a dead heat until the ninth inning when VSU scored the first run of the game. The day was highlighted by strong defense for both clubs.
Arkansas-Monticello’s best chance to score first came in the fourth inning. Kayla Jackson, the GSC West Pitcher and Player of the Year singled to right center and moved to second on a single from Sarah Hayslip.
Designated player Faith Lund then hit a single to shallow center field, and Head Coach Alvy Early sent Chasity Deselle, pinch running for Jackson, home. Jackson, celebrating her 22nd birthday, caught the ball on the run and threw it on a frozen rope to Ashley Steinhilber at home. The ball was there in time, Steinhilber held on and made the tag for the first out of the inning. Meanwhile, Hayslip moved to third and Lund took second.
Early called for his first squeeze play of the day, but Randa Perry could not make contact on the bunt and Hayslip was caught in a run down between third and home for the second out. Perry followed that with a ground out to pitcher Holly Satterfield to end the second most exciting inning of the day.
Satterfield and Jackson, both GSC Pitchers of the Year, went head to head throughout the game. Satterfield finished the first game allowing six hits (three in the final inning) with three strikeouts and three walks. She held UAM scoreless until the ninth when the Cotton Blossoms scored two runs. Jackson was equally impressive, striking out three with no walks and giving up five hits and one run.
Valdosta State finally broke the silence between the two teams in the ninth inning when Morozova scored VSU’s lone run. After being hit by a pitch, Morozova reached second on an error by UAM’s third baseman on a Steinhilber fielder’s choice. Then Johnson put the ball in play for another fielder’s choice. As UAM tried to decide which runner to throw out, Morozova seized opportunity to score the first run of the game.
The Blazers could not score again in the inning so Arkansas-Monticello was down to its last chance. The team responded as Jackson hit a double and moved to third on a single from Hayslip. Hayslip reached second on the throw. Jackson scored next on a single from Lund to tie the game.
With one run in, Arkansas-Monticello had momentum. Early called his second squeeze play of the day, this one more successful than the first. Perry made contact on the bunt, Satterfield tossed the ball to Steinhilber, and by the umpire’s call, Hayslip tagged safe under the tag to win it for the Cotton Blossoms.
As devastating a loss as that could have been, VSU had to prepare for Alabama-Huntsville, a team the Blazers had not beaten in four tries this season. Whichever team lost this time around would be going home until the NCAA Regional Tournament.
Margaret Carter gave VSU an excellent chance to win with a stellar day of pitching. She gave up four hits and two runs after four hitless innings that only saw one base runner for UAH. She struck out three and Krystle Robinson finished up the game for the save.
Valdosta State used a huge fourth inning to bust a scoreless game wide open with a four-run lead. Littlefield started the momentum with a single up the middle, then advanced on a sacrifice from Colette Rollins. Morozova followed that with a single through the right side. Littlefield legged it out from second to score VSU’s first run of the second game.
Steinhilber joined Morozova to make it two VSU runners on base after a walk. After a fly out, Hutchens, the leading VSU hitter on the day, hit a double to left field to plate both runs with two outs. Then Hutchens went to third when Jordan Martin reached on an error.
Posey made it an even four runs for VSU when she scored Hutchens on a double. Alabama-Huntsville was finally able to end the inning after that. The Chargers were unable to answer in the fourth or fifth, but made noise in the sixth with two unearned runs. It would not be enough as VSU went on to secure the victory and a spot in Sunday’s GSC Championship game.