VALDOSTA, Ga. (vstateblazers.com) — Behind two home runs from freshman Aniston Gano, including a grand slam, the No. 7 Valdosta State softball team defeated No. 17 West Florida, 10-3 Sunday to complete a three-game sweep. The Blazers hit four home runs in the game and Gano finished the game 2 for 3 with two runs scored, a walk and five RBI on the two round-trippers.
The Blazers improved to 19-3 on the year and 13-2 in Gulf South Conference play to lead the league. UWF fell to 18-10 overall and 12-6 in GSC play. VSU ran its winning streak to eight games with the sweep. It also marked the first time VSU has swept UWF in a regular season series since 2017, also in Valdosta. The Blazers improved to 56-52 all-time against the Argos.
VSU broke open a 1-1 game in the fifth, plating six runs, including the grand slam by Gano. UWF tied the game in the top of the fourth with a home run from Kara Wilson. She finished the game with two home runs on 2 of 3 from the dish with three RBI and two runs scored. UWF pulled within 7-3 in the top of the sixth on Wilson's second round-tripper, but VSU countered with three runs in the bottom of the sixth courtesy of a two run home run from freshman Morgan Hill and one from junior Nicole Pennington on back-to-back swings for the 10-3 margin.
Blazer sophomore hurler Samantha Richards won her second game of the weekend and improved to 13-2 on the year, going all seven innings, allowing six hits, three runs – two earned, walked none and fanned seven. She has not allowed a walk in her last 22 innings, dating back to Mar. 20 versus Georgia Southwestern. Richards has walked just ten batters for the season in 88.2 innings, while striking out 108 in 17 appearances with 14 starts.
Argonaut starter Montana Young (7-3) took the loss in four innings, allowing three hits, five runs – four earned, walked five and fanned four. Kelsey Sweatt and Grace Gilbert each pitched the final two innings for UWF.
Richards retired the Argos in order in the first and a bunt single and hit batsmen put two on for UWF in the second. Richards calmly came back with her second strikeout of the game to catch Mallory Vining looking to get out of the jam.
Gano took a 2-2 pitch to right field for a home run for her first of the game off Young for a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the second to break the scoreless tie. It was Gano's fifth home run of the season and ninth of the series for VSU.
Wilson leveled the game in the top of the fourth with a solo home run to center field, her seventh of the season for a 1-1 score. Ally Merrill doubled to left center and moved to third on a sacrifice bunt. Richards came back with her fourth strikeout of the game for the second out. She then fanned Angela Agurkis looking for the final out as the Argos left one stranded at third.
A pair of great bunts and an error on UWF put two on for the Blazers with nobody out in the fifth. Young walked Pennington for the second time in the game to load the bases. Senior Logan Hill had a nine pitch at bat with Young and drew the bases loaded walk for a 2-1 VSU lead. UWF brought in Sweatt following the bases loaded walk. Sophomore Kiley Robb drew a walk for a 3-1 lead. On a 2-2 count, Gano belted her second home run of the game – this time a grand slam for a 7-1 lead. All nine batters came to the plate for the Blazers in the fifth.
Following a miscue by the Blazers, Wilson belted her second home run of the game to left for a 7-3 score in the top of the sixth. Richards came back with a pair of flyouts and a strikeout to prevent further damage.
VSU then hit the back-to-back home runs in the sixth for the 10-3 score. Richards fanned one batter in the seventh and pitched 114 pitches in the game, facing 29 batters.
For the series, VSU hit .293 on 22 of 75 from the dish, scored 22 runs with one double, a staggering 12 home runs and 22 RBI. The team slugged .787 and reached base at a .418 clip for the series this weekend. VSU drew 16 walks in the series, while the Blazers allowed just one free pass as a staff and hit two batters. Pennington and M. Hill each had three home runs for the series, while Gano and senior L. Hill each had two. Richards was 2-0 with a 1.50 ERA in 14 innings, allowing 11 hits, six runs – three earned, walked none and fanned 13. As a staff, VSU had a 2.00 ERA in 18.2 innings, while allowing 20 hits, 10 runs – six earned, walked one and fanned 19 as UWF hit .250 for the series. The 12 home runs this weekend gives VSU 45 home runs for the season to lead the nation and an impressive 1.9 average for home runs per game.
VSU heads to Cleveland, Miss., for a three-game series at Delta State, Apr. 2-3. The Blazers then return home Apr. 10 for a three-game set with West Alabama at Steel's Diamond at Blazer Park.