VALDOSTA, Ga. – The No. 22 Valdosta State baseball team battled back for a split of a doubleheader against visiting No. 15 West Georgia Saturday afternoon. Sunday's rubber-match has been moved to 10:30 a.m., due to the threat of rain Sunday afternoon in Valdosta. VSU improved to 14-7 overall and 7-4 in Gulf South Conference play, while UWG is 15-4 overall and 8-3 in league play.
UWG won the opener 6-2 as it posted four runs in the top of the eighth breaking a 2-2 tie, while VSU scored three runs in the bottom of the first in the nightcap en route to a 5-2 victory. With a doubleheader sweep by the Blazer softball team, VSU pulled within a full point in the Red Clay Rivalry Series with UWG. The Wolves now lead 4.5 to 3.5. The winner of Sunday's baseball game also will earn a point in the rivalry series. VSU won the inaugural rivalry series in 2021-22, 7-4.
#15 West Georgia 6, #22 Valdosta State 2 (Game One)
A pair of walks and two wild pitches plated a run for the Blazers in the bottom of the first inning. UWG began the top of the second with a single to left field. A fielder's choice out followed, but the second single to left put two on with one out. On a 2-2 count, Jared Emory laced a two RBI double to left center for a 2-1 UWG lead. Sophomore hurler Zach Dodson came up with his third strikeout of the game for the second out and a fly out to right for the third out.
The Blazers tallied their first two hits of the game in the bottom of the third, but UWG got out of the jam with a fielder's choice. An error with one away and a single put runners at the corners for the Wolves in the top of the fourth. VSU got a fielder's choice at home for the second out, and had a 1-2 count to Jackson Webb and came up with a big strikeout to end the threat.
VSU, once again put runners on with two away and, this time, graduate student JP Gates came up with an RBI double to the gap for a 2-2 score. A wild pitch moved Gates to third and, on a 3-2 count and the 100th pitch of the game by UWG starter Peyton Berry, he induced the ground out to get out of the inning.
With one out in the top of the sixth and one on, VSU went to the bullpen in favor of junior Zane Stephens replacing Dodson. Stephens fanned Logan Fink for the second out and a fly out for the third preserving the tie game.
A single and a walk put two on for the Wolves in the top of the eighth with one out. After a meeting at the mound, Anthony Calabro doubled down the left field line, plating one run for a 3-2 lead and Fink singled up the middle for two more runs for a 5-2 advantage and Emory doubled home a run off the wall for a 6-2 score.
VSU loaded the bases with a walk, single and error with two away in the bottom of the eighth, but a line out to shortstop ended the threat sending the game to the ninth. VSU had one last chance in the bottom of the ninth as senior Bryson Gandy began the frame with a walk. UWG went to the bullpen in favor of Ryan Whitener, replacing Jonathan Hickman. Lineouts to center and shortstop followed and Gates just missed a home run with a long fly out to left field.
UWG won the opener 6-2 as Hickman (3-0) earned the win in relief, while Whitener picked up his first save. Stephens took the loss in 2.2 innings, allowing five hits, four earned runs, walked one and fanned two. Dodson went 5.1 innings in a good outing, allowing five hits, two earned runs, walked none and fanned five in a no decision. Gates finished 3 for 5 with one RBI to earn Guardian Bank Blazer Player of the Game honors.
The Wolves had six runs on ten hits and two errors, while VSU had two runs on six hits and one error. Emory paced UWG going 2 for 4 with three RBI and two doubles, while Calabro was 3 for 4 with a run scored, a double and one RBI.
#22 Valdosta State 5, #15 West Georgia 2(Game Two)
UWG began the second game with two singles for runners at the corners and nobody out. Henry Daniels singled up the middle for a 1-0 lead. A sacrifice fly from Calabro made the score 2-0. The Blazers got a foul out and a ground out to end the threat.
A walk and a single from Gates put runners at first and third with one out in the bottom of the first. A wild pitch plated the first run of the game for the Blazers. Another wild pitch on ball four put runners at the corners, once again. Sophomore Connor Morgan laced a double to center, plating two runs for a 3-2 VSU lead. After a walk, UWG went to the bullpen in favor of Jake Jordan, replacing starter Chase Townsend. On a 3-2 count with runners at second and third, Jordan got a fly out to right to end the inning.
The Wolves put runners on first and second with two out in the top of the second, but a foul out to right field ended the threat. VSU put runners on first and second in the bottom of the second with one out as UWG brought in its third pitcher of the game in Andrew Smith, replacing Jordan. A fielder's choice followed. Graduate student Jake Sessa singled to center on a 1-2 count for an RBI and a 4-2 lead through two innings.
Cooper Prince began the top of the fourth with a single through the right side. Senior starter Zach Henderson came back with his third strikeout of the game for the first out. With two outs, VSU went to the bullpen in favor of Gates, who had been the designated hitter to this point in the game. An error on a 1-2 count with two away, loaded the bases for the Wolves. On another 1-2 count, VSU got the benefit of a bang-bang play at first for a ground out to end the threat as the Wolves left the bags full.
Henderson went 3.2 innings, allowing five hits, two earned runs, walked one and fanned three as he can't factor into the decision. In the bottom of the fifth, sophomore Jovanni Canegitta reached on an error and junior Jacob Harper doubled to left for runners at second and third with one out. Gandy singled through the right side as the UWG defense was in looking for the squeeze. He plated Canegitta, but Harper was thrown out at third and a caught stealing ended the threat.
UWG began the top of the sixth with a single to left, but the Blazers turned the first double play of the day for two away. Gates came back with his second strikeout of the game to end the inning. In the bottom of the inning, freshman Raynel Ortiz singled up the middle for his second hit of the day. UWG went to the bullpen for Jack Rasmussen, replacing Smith. A sacrifice bunt moved a runner into position with one out.
Gats got his third strikeout of the game for the first out of the top of the seventh and followed with another strikeout for two away. UWG tripled to right, but on a 1-2 count with two away. A bang-bang play at first on a ground out ended the game.
For the nightcap, VSU tallied five runs on eight hits with one error, while UWG had two runs on seven hits and one error. Gates was named Guardian Bank Blazer Player of the Game for the second game as well as he went 2 for 3 from the plate with a run scored. He also earned the win in relief, going 3.1 innings, allowing no hits, no walks and he fanned four. For the day, Gates went 5 for 8 from the plate with one RBI, a double and one run scored. He improved to 3-0 on the mound.