Valdosta, Ga. - The Valdosta State softball team has earned the right to defend their 2012 National Title in the NCAA Softball Championship Tournament after defeating Alabama Huntsville 8-3 in the final and deciding game of the South Super Regional on Saturday afternoon at Steel's Diamond at Blazer Park.
The Blazers sent eight baserunners across home plate in the Super Regional Championship game, and each one scored with two outs. The eight runs, along with a strong pitching performance by Hanna Lythberg, were enough to secure a spot in the National Championship Tournament for the second straight season and the third time in the last four years.
The day featured two contests, the first of which was taken by UAH with a 5-4 victory. The win for the Chargers tied the weekend series at two, forcing a third and final matchup between the two Gulf South Conference rivals.
The Chargers took an early lead in the first game as they plated two runs in the bottom half of the first inning on a homer to right by left fielder Mary Kelley. Brianna Sullivan came in to score on the round tripper after leading the game off with a walk two batters earlier.
In the third, Courtney Albritton cut the lead to one with a solo shot to left, her first of two on the day. But the Chargers came right back in the bottom half of the inning, scoring a run of their own with a base hit to right field by Charger senior Kathryn Whitlock. Meagan Billingsley, who was hit by a pitch to lead off the bottom of the third and advanced to second on a sacrifice bunt, scored from second on the single to stretch the lead to 3-1.
In the next half inning the Blazers answered with another run to cut the deficit to 3-2 with a leadoff home run by designated player Angela O'Connor. O'Connor, who collected two hits and three RBI's in both games on Saturday, lifted the ball high and deep over the left field wall for her second long ball of the year and her second in as many days.
In the top of the fifth, Hannah Strickland led off the inning with an infield single, and Albritton sent the crowd of 626 into a frenzy with her second homer of the day, giving the Blazers a 4-3 lead.
The Chargers would not be denied as they tied the game up 4-4 in the bottom of the sixth inning with a two out single up the middle by Sullivan. The base hit brought in Abby MacKay, who reached on a one out single earlier in the inning and advanced on a sacrifice bunt by Kellie Johnson.
The winning run came for UAH in the bottom of the final inning when Mary Kelley led off the inning with a double, and was driven in by center fielder Mallory McNeal, who delivered a single up the middle to conclude the game.
In game two, The Blazers put together a five run, two out rally in the top of the second inning to give themselves a fairly comfortable lead early on. The rally started with back to back one out singles by Kiley Rusen and senior Sarah Vaughn, and one out later, Hannah Strickland beat out a high chopper to second to load the bases. Albritton ripped a pitch off the wall in left center to score all three runners and give Valdosta State a 3-0 lead. Morgan Johnson followed with a walk, and the Chargers relieved Kimberly Jack with Whitney Toler, who issued back to back walks to Shelby Altman and Ashley Steinhilber, pushing the Blazers lead to 4-0. Huntsville head coach Les Stuedeman placed Jack back in the circle for the Chargers, and the freshman proceeded to walk O'Connor with the bases loaded, giving VSU their fifth and final run of the half inning.
Whitlock walked to begin the bottom of the second for the Chargers and moved to second on a groundout to first base before Meagan Billingsley reached on a fielder's choice. Whitlock looked to score from second on a single up the middle by Nicole Bobrowski, but Vaughn made a perfect throw to cut down Alabama-Huntsville's shortstop at the plate. Lythberg induced a groundout from Kellie Johnson to end the threat and hold UAH scoreless in the second.
With Lythberg cruising along, the Blazers added another run in the top of the fifth inning when Whitlock was unable to field a grounder cleanly at short. The grounder kicked off the UAH shortstop and rolled into left field, allowing Fran Johnson to score from second. Fran Johnson reached earlier in the inning on a bunt single and moved to second on a sacrifice bunt by Strickland.
Two hits in the bottom of the sixth inning gave the Chargers their first run of the game. Kelley singled through the right side, advanced to second on a groundout to third, and scored on a single by Whitlock to make the score 6-1.
The Blazers provided insurance in the top of the seventh when Blazer seniors Morgan Johnson and Steinhilber delivered a single and a double, respectively, to make the score 7-1. In the next at bat, O'Connor picked up her second RBI of the game and her third of the day with a single through the left side to drive in Steinhilber.
Lythberg, who improved her record to 16-4 on the year, was able to hold off a late push by the Chargers, limiting the team to two runs on three hits in the final frame and sealing the win for the Blazers with a final score of 8-3.
UAH ends the season with a 43-13 record.
The Blazers improve their record to 46-11 and will travel to Salem, Virginia next week to compete for their second straight National Championship.