TAMPA. FLA. (VSTATEBLAZERS.COM) — In a complete "team effort" and behind outstanding defensive performances by both teams, the No. 12-ranked Valdosta State softball team made the final defensive stop as sophomore Morgan Hill made a dead spring, diving catch in right field to rob Tampa's Mariah Galhouse to win the NCAA South Region #2 title, 2-0 Saturday afternoon in the bottom of the seventh for the winning play. After winning 5-4 on Friday versus Tampa, the Spartans battled back for a 3-2 victory in the opener on Saturday, forcing the "if necessary" game. VSU moved to 37-12 on the year, while Tampa ended its season with a 37-12 record.
#6 Tampa 3, #12 Valdosta State 2 (Game One)
In the top of the first, VSU loaded the bases with two walks and a single. Sophomore Taylor Macera came through with a bloop-single just past first base, plating two runs for a 2-0 lead. The Blazers then came up with a great defensive stand in the bottom of the second as Tampa loaded the bases with a pair of singles and a walk. VSU junior pitcher Samantha Richards induced a fly out to left for the final out to get out of the jam.
VSU then put two on with a single from sophomore Katie Proctor to begin the fourth and a sacrifice bunt from Macera moved her to second. A walk followed by a foul out to left field and a ground out ended the threat. The Spartans responded in the bottom of the inning with a single up the middle from Lexi Chevalier, followed by an RBI double to left center for a 2-1 score. With two out, Lauren Fantone reached on an error for a 2-2 score.
In the top of the fifth, VSU senior Nikki Pennington had what looked like a solo home run to right, but Mariah Galhouse made a diving catch through the portable fence for the second out of the inning, robbing the Blazers of the go ahead run. In the bottom of the fifth, Galhouse singled through the left side and a sacrifice bunt moved her to second. Alexa Russo doubled down the left field line, plating Galhouse for a 3-2 lead. Richards got a fly out to center and a strikeout to get out of the jam.
In the top of the seventh, junior Taylor Lewis just missed a home run to left and senior Baylee Everson drew a one out walk, but a fly out to left and a strikeout ended the game, setting up the "if necessary" game.
Richards (27-9) allowed six hits, three runs – two earned, walked two and fanned four. Macera was 1 for two with two RBI to lead the team, while graduate student Ally Clegg went 1 for 3 with a run scored. VSU finished with two runs on three hits and two errors.
Tampa's Mary Beth Feldman (14-1) earned the victory going seven innings, allowing three hits, two earned runs, walked four and fanned two. The Spartans were led by Russo who went 2 for 3 with an RBI and a double.
In the storied history of this rivalry, the opener on Saturday marked the eighth-straight game decided by one run as VSU now leads the all-time series 34-13 after both games.
#12 Valdosta State 2, #6 Tampa 0 (Game Two)
In the winner-take-all game, the Blazers were the "road team" for the second-straight game and had the first at bat. Sophomore Morgan Hill reached on an error to begin the game. A fly out to right followed and Clegg singled to right center, moving Hill to third and Clegg stole second with two away. On a 1-2 count, sophomore Katie Proctor singled to right, plating Hill for a 1-0 lead. Macera singled through the left side, plating Clegg for a 2-0 lead.
Blazer freshman Madison Lumpp earned the start for her third career start and allowed one hit in the bottom of the first, but used a strikeout, ground out and fly out to get out of the inning. After the Blazers went down in order in the second, Russo began the bottom of the inning with a single to center and a sacrifice bunt moved her to second. A ground out moved her to third. Stephanie Balmer was called for hitting out of the batters box on an RBI single so the play had to be redone. She walked with two out as VSU went to the bullpen in favor of sophomore Mia DeAngelis. DeAngelis came in with an 0-2 count on Mackenzie Allen, who hit a line drive to the outfield, but was called out of the batters box when she made contact for the third out and the Blazers were out of the jam unscathed.
In the bottom of the third, a one out single and stolen base moved a runner into scoring position as Galhouse popped up to short for the second out and a line out to left ended the threat. VSU put two on in the top of the fourth with two away at second and third. Hill had a great shot to left center, but Lilly Kiester made a diving play into the wall – just like in the first game, robbing the Blazers of a potential home run.
Tampa loaded the bases in the bottom of the fourth as Richards came in with two out to replace DeAngelis. Richards got the Blazers out of the jam with a ground out to third as UT left seven stranded to that point.
The game remained 2-0 to the seventh as VSU used a one out walk to Pennington, but was unable to get anything across. Allen hit a blistering ball right to Clegg for the first out in the bottom of the seventh. Pennington then charged on a grounder scooped and threw a dart to first for the second out, retiring Fantone. Galhouse then hit the ball to right where Hill made her diving heroics to seal the victory.
Lumpp (2-0) earned the victory while Richards picked up the save as VSU finished with two runs on seven hits and no errors, while Tampa finished with no runs on four hits and two errors. For VSU in the nightcap, Macera was outstanding, once again, as she went 2 for 3 with an RBI, while Proctor was 1 for 3 with an RBI.
The Blazers now will travel to Gulf South Conference rival Auburn Montgomery for the NCAA South Super Regional, Thursday and Friday in a best-of-three series, with the winner advancing to the NCAA Division II Softball National Championship at The Regency Athletic Complex in Denver, Colo., May 26-31.