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Blazers turn back Lee to improve to 3-0 in Gulf South Conference Championship

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Posted at 12:30 PM, May 08, 2023
and last updated 2023-05-08 12:30:37-04

OXFORD, Ala. – The Valdosta State baseball team rallied from a 7-5 deficit early for a thrilling 13-9 victory over Lee University in a winners' bracket game in the Gulf South Conference Championship Sunday evening.

The Blazers (3-0), seeded fourth in the tournament and are the only undefeated team left and will play No. 8-seed Delta State (2-1) at 3 p.m. ET on Monday. Fans can access links to live stats, streaming and more by clicking here.

West Florida (2-1) and Lee (2-1) battle at 12 p.m. ET Monday. If the Blazers defeat Delta State, there would be just two teams left, the Blazers and whoever wins the first game, and that team would have to beat VSU twice Tuesday to claim the GSC Championship title. If DSU were to win, there would be three teams remaining on Championship Tuesday.

The game tomorrow also will be broadcast on 92.1 WDDQ FM and with Kit Strief having the call. This marks the first time since 2013 VSU has started the conference tournament 3-0. VSU won its last GSC title also in 2013.

For Sunday's game, the Blazers improved to 33-16 on the year as they scored 13 runs on 14 hits with one error, while Lee (28-24) had nine runs on 16 hits and two errors. In a game with a lot of offense from the start, VSU was led by sophomore Hunter Stowe, who was 3 for 5 with three runs scored, three RBI and a walk as he hit a two RBI double in the ninth for the 13-9 lead earning Guardian Bank Blazer Player of the Game honors. Graduate student JP Gates was 2 for 6 with one run scored and three RBI, including a three-run home run, his seventh of the year. Gates also went 0.1 innings on the mound with one walk and one strikeout getting the Blazers out of two on base jam in the seventh unscathed.

Blazer freshman Raynel Ortiz, in his second start in the field of the season, went 2 for 6 with two runs scored and one RBI, while junior Jacob Harper was 2 for 4 with a run scored, a double and two RBI. Senior Brandon Raiden (5-1) earned the win in relief, going 3.1 innings, allowing four hits, two runs – one earned, walked one and fanned four. Junior Zane Stephens earned his second save of the season, going two innings, allowing three hits with one strikeout.

Lee was led by Brandon Daniels who was 3 for 5 with one run scored and two RBI. Riley Black went 2 for 5 with a run scored and two RBI, including a home run. Tim Gooden (2-4) took the loss in 0.1 innings, allowing two hits, three earned runs, walked two and fanned one.

The Blazers, playing as the road team in the tournament for the first time, started the momentum early with three runs on three hits off Lee starter Frankie Volkers, who lasted just 2.1 innings, allowing six hits, five runs – four earned, walked none and fanned two. Junior David Crawford began the game getting plunked by Volkers and he stole second. Stowe began the game of his career with an RBI single up the middle for a 1-0 lead. Sophomore Jovanni Canegitta hit an RBI single for a 2-0 lead and Harper hit a sacrifice fly for a 3-0 lead.

The Flames notched a run in the bottom of the frame on an RBI single from Daniels with an 0-2 count and two away in the inning. VSU added two runs in the third, chasing Volkers from the game with an RBI double from Harper and an Ortiz RBI single to left with a 3-2 count and two out for a 5-1 lead.

Lee scored six runs in the bottom of the inning on back-to-back-to-back RBI doubles and a two-run home run from Black for a 7-5 lead, but the Blazers took the lead for good in the fourth as Gates cleared the bases with a three-run blast and an error on the Flames plated a run unearned for a 9-7 score.

Both VSU and Lee added two runs in the sixth for an 11-9 score as VSU used a pair of RBI doubles from senior Bryson Gandy and sophomore Trent Lewis, while an error on the Blazers and an RBI single plated the runs for the Flames.

In the bottom of the seventh, VSU got two quick outs by Raiden, but back-to-back singles from the Flames put two on as Gates replaced Raiden, getting Josiah Miller to strikeout swinging. Lee put two on in the bottom of the eighth as Stephens relieved Gates and got a huge double play, followed by a foul out to Harper to end the threat.

Lee's Jax Howard had shut down the Blazer attack retiring seven-straight since he entered in the sixth, but things unraveled for him in the ninth as Lewis drew a walk to begin the frame and sophomore Kevin Lewis moved him to second on a great sacrifice bunt. Lewis advanced to third on a wild pitch and Crawford walked for runners at the corners. Hunter Lane relieved Howard and Stowe then came up with the hit of his career – a two RBI single up the middle on a 2-1 count for the 13-9 lead.

Things got interesting in the bottom of the ninth as Lee loaded the bases brining the tying run to the plate with two out in Miller, but he flied out to center field to end the game.