VALDOSTA, Ga. (VALDOSTA STATE ATHLETICS) — Returning home in front of a packed house, the No. 9 Valdosta State softball team belted three home runs to tie its own school-record and Gulf South Conference record with 98 home runs this season in an 8-0 run-rule victory over No. 16 Alabama Huntsville in the NCAA South Regional.
The Blazers (35-8), who hadn't hit three or more home runs in a game since blasting a school-record and GSC-tying record of seven at Christian Brothers on Apr. 25, returned to the friendly confines of Steel's Diamond at Blazer Park looking to return to form and that's exactly what they did. VSU tallied its 18th run-rule victory of the season. More importantly, the Blazers got advanced to a Friday matchup with No. 5-seed West Florida in the winner's bracket. The winner of Friday's game advances to the South Region Championship Saturday.
After getting swept in the regular season by UAH (32-13), the Blazers wanted to make a statement to open hosting their eighth regional in school history. VSU improved to 57-38 all-time in the NCAA postseason in its 19th appearance in program history, while it now is 7-10 all-time against UAH in the postseason. The Blazers improved to 18-9 all-time in the regional round when hosting. A great crowd of 340 were on hand for the Blazer victory.
The 98 home runs hit by VSU ties the program's own league record set in 2009 in 65 games, while this was the 43rd game of the season for the Blazers in 2021. Impressively, 63 of the 98 home runs this season, have been hit at Steel's Diamond at Blazer Park.
Following a nine-pitch top of the first from sophomore Samantha Richards, the Blazers drew a pair of walks and a sacrifice bunt put freshman Morgan Hill at third and junior Nicole Pennington at second with one away. Layton Murphy came back with a big strikeout for the second out, but on a 1-2 count, freshman Aniston Gano went deep to right field for a three run home run and her 13th of the season for a 3-0 lead. It was the 96th home run of the season for the Blazers, who lead the nation and home runs per game at a 2.26 clip.
A pair of hard hit singles by the Chargers put two on with one out in the top of the second. Richards got her second strikeout of the game for the second out. Richards fanned Gracie Green on a ten-pitch at bat for the third out of the inning.
A one out single from junior Baylee Everson through the left side in the bottom of the second and then she scored on a single from freshman Morgan Hill courtesy of a miscue by the Chargers for a 4-0 lead. Richards fanned two in the third for five K's for the game and 220 for the season.
M. Hill took the first pitch from Murphy in the bottom of the fifth for home run to dead center field for her 17th home run of the season and second home run of the game by the Blazers for one shy of tying the school and GSC record for home runs in a season with the 97th round-tripper of the year.
The home run chased Murphy from the game in favor of Grace O'Berry. Murphy went four innings, allowing four hits, five runs – four earned, walked two and fanned three. The home run also marked the 62nd hit at Steel's Diamond at Blazer Park this season by VSU. Sophomore Kiley Robb, who fanned her first two at bats, hit her 17th home run of the season – a two run shot for a 7-0 lead. Robb's blast tied the GSC and VSU record for home runs in a season with 98 for the year. VSU also hit 98 home runs in 2009 in 65 games, while this is the 43rd game of the season in 2021.
In the bottom of the sixth, a single from senior Lacey Crandall, a fielder's choice and a walk put two on with one away for the top of the order. Following a ground out to second with the runners advancing into scoring position. Junior Nicole Pennington hit a single through the left side for the walk-off victory and an 8-0 win.
For the game, Richards improved to 24-5 on the year, going all six innings, allowing three hits and fanned six for her eighth shutout of the season. Murphy (16-5) took the loss in four innings, allowing four hits, five runs – four earned, walked two and fanned three. O'Berry pitched the final 1.2 innings, allowing three hits, three earned runs, walked two and fanned one.
VSU had eight runs on seven hits and no errors, while UAH had three hits and one error as it was shutout for just the fourth time this season. M. Hill was the only Blazer with two hits in the game as she was 2 for 3 with two runs scored, a home run, one RBI and a walk. Six other Blazers had one hit each as Gano was 1 for 3 with a run scored and a huge three-run home run. Robb was 1 for 3 with a run scored and two RBI on a home run.