Valdosta, GA -- Valdosta State is one of just 16 teams left in the hunt for an NCAA Division II Softball National Championship. After falling to Rollins, 3-0, in game one, the Blazers rebounded behind the pitching of Courtney Gunby and great defense to beat the Tars, 1-0, in the deciding game. With the win, Valdosta State improves to 51-4 on the season and will host Florida Southern in the NCAA DII South Super Regionals to begin Friday at the VSU Softball Complex.
Valdosta State’s combined effort won the second game for VSU. It wasn’t just one play, but a combination of great plays that won the game. Morgan Johnson knocked in the only RBI of the game with a hit through the left side. Clare Wamsley made a fifth inning catch at the fence. Courtney Albritton made a final inning catch at the fence. Those three plays with Gunby’s first solo shutout of the season and stellar defense throughout clinched the deciding game.
The Blazers needed the win after falling to Rollins in the opener. Both the Tars and Blazers started the first game of the day in the top of the third inning in continuation from Sunday’s game. The Blazers were only able to notch two hits against Rollins pitcher Hope Bitzer. She stymied VSU throughout game one with 10 strikeouts and no walks in seven innings. For the day, no Blazer was able to hit Bitzer more than once.
Bitzer went the distance in game two as well, giving up four hits, one walk and a run in six innings but still registering seven strikeouts. Bitzer won the first battle against VSU ace Alanna Hadley (three strikeouts, a walk, seven hits and three runs in six innings) but could not outdo Gunby.
In the fifth inning of the first game Rollins made its season saving move. With two outs, Lawna Hunter reached base on a hit by pitch. Next, Monica Meadows doubled down the left line to knock in Hunter and the go ahead run. With Meadows at second, Krista Rodden hit her sixth home run of the season to put the Tars up, 3-0. The Blazers couldn’t rebound… until game two.
Both teams registered four hits in the game, but the Blazers tallied two in the third inning for the go ahead run. Angela O’Connor started the inning with a walk. Head Coach Thomas Macera made the move to April Collins to pinch run for O’Connor. Collins advance to second on a single from April Hutchens. Albritton was next to put the ball in play and she advanced Collins to third on a fielder’s choice. With two outs, Johnson knocked her single through the left side to follow Hutchens’s lead. Collins scored on the play and the Blazer defense would ensure VSU would not need another run.
In both the fifth and sixth innings Rollins had runners at third but the VSU defense held strong. In the fifth, Veronica Alred was at second when Hannah Lovestrand hit a deep bomb into right centerfield. Wamsley made the running catch heading into the fence to rob Lovestrand, then made the throw to the infield to hold Alred at third. The next play was a groundout to end the inning. Later, runners were at the corners in the top of the sixth for Rollins and Wamsley made another catch in right field.
When Rollins tried to make a comeback bid in the top of the seventh, playing for the season, Albritton made another theft. The GSC Player of the Year finished the day without a hit but made her presence known defensively in centerfield. Alred led off with a deep hit to straight away centerfield but Albritton, despite running into the fence, made the catch to take away a second possible homer from Rollins and secure the win.
The Blazers will host Florida Southern starting Friday at the VSU Softball Complex. Check www.vstateblazers.com throughout the week for updates.