OXFORD, Ala. – The No. 4-seeded Valdosta State Blazers used a walk-off wild pitch to down No. 5-seed West Georgia in the opening round of the Gulf South Conference Baseball Championship Friday evening for a 6-5 victory in 11 innings.
The Blazers (31-16) began the bottom of the 11th with a walk to senior Bryson Gandy on a 3-2 pitch. He then advanced to second on a throwing error by UWG catcher Jackson Webb. Following a walk to junior Jacob Harper, Gandy advanced to third on a wild pitch. After an out, UWG intentionally walked junior leadoff hitter David Crawford to load the bases. UWG hurler Ezra Brown threw the second wild pitch of the inning, plating Gandy for the walk-off victory.
VSU won last year over West Florida in the opening round game of the conference tournament, 13-12 in 11-innings also on a walk-off home run – a three run shot from former Blazer Jisjar Clotida to win the game as UWF took a 12-10 lead in the top of the 11th.
Now the Blazers will await the winner of top-seed West Florida versus No. 8-seed Delta State tomorrow at approximately 8 p.m. CT in a winner's bracket game. UWG will face the loser of the UWF/DSU game at 4 p.m. CT in an elimination game. In the other games today, No. 6-seed Shorter downed No. 3-seed Alabama Huntsville, 3-0, while No. 7-seed Lee defeated No. 2-seed Montevallo, 10-2.
In a back-and-forth game from the get go, UWG opened the scoring in the top of the second after leaving two runners stranded in the first. Cade Hohl singled to left center plating the first run of the game as Cooper Prince scored, while Anthony Calabro singled to left center, plating Webb for a 2-0 lead.
The lead was short lived, however, as VSU roared back in the bottom of the inning with a two RBI double from Harper and an RBI single from junior Preston Joye for a 3-2 lead. UWG (32-17) regained the lead in the fourth, once again scoring with two out, as Logan Fink singled to center for two RBI and a 4-3 score. Blazer sophomore JJ Finn replaced senior starter Kevin Tomas and got out of a bases loaded jam with Jared Emory following out to first base to end the threat. Tomas finished the game going 3.2 innings, allowing eight hits, four earned runs, walked three and fanned five.
VSU tied the game in the fifth on an RBI single from graduate student Nick Gonzalez with two away, plating Harper, who began the inning with a single to right center. The Wolves regained the lead in the seventh with an RBI single from Calabro and a 5-4 score.
In the bottom of the eighth, graduate student JP Gates walked to begin the inning as UWG starter Peyton Berry pitched 8.1 innings for the game. Senior Orlando Adams put down a great sacrifice bunt and sophomore Jovanni Canegitta came up with a great single through the left side. With the bases loaded, Gandy hit a sacrifice fly to left field, plating Gates for the 5-5 score.
A walk and the second balk call on the Blazers of the game put Webb at second in the top of the ninth. Adams made a great play in foul territory getting an out on a bunt from Tyler Presnell. Junior Nick Ferrara relieved senior Brandon Raiden and he got Hohl to line out to right field and eventually got Henry Daniels to pop out to shortstop as UWG left two stranded. In the bottom of the inning, Brown came in to pitch for Berry with one out and proceeded to get the Blazers out forcing extra innings.
In the 11th, Emory was hit by a pitch to begin the inning, followed by a strikeout and a walk put two on. Another strikeout from Ferrara for the second out and Gonzalez made arguably the play of the season with a diving stop behind second base a flip throw to Joye at second for a fielder's choice and the third out of the inning, robbing Calabro of a potential hit and go-ahead RBI.
For the game, VSU had six runs on nine hits and no errors, while UWG had five runs on 12 hits and the one error in the bottom of the 11th. VSU left nine runners on base, while UWG left a staggering 18 stranded. The Blazers were led by Gonzalez who was named Guardian Bank Blazer Player of the Game, going 2 for 5 with one RBI, three putouts and the big assist on the fielder's choice. Harper was clutch, going 2 for 4 with two runs scored and two RBI. Ferrara (2-1) earned the win, going 2.2 innings, walked two and fanning two as UWG didn't register a hit against him.
Hohl and Calabro each had three hits for the Wolves in a combined 13 at bats, while the duo drive in three runs. Fink was 2 for 6 with two RBI. Berry went 8.1 innings, allowing eight hits, five earned, runs, walked four and struck out five. Brown (2-3) took the loss in two innings, allowing one hit, one earned run, walked three and fanned two.