DENVER, Co. (VALDOSTA STATE ATHLETICS) — Despite three home runs and a 3-0 lead through four innings, the No. 9 Valdosta State softball team was unable to hang on in an 8-4 loss to No. 2 North Georgia in an elimination game Friday afternoon in the 2021 NCAA Division II National Championship. The Blazers finished an outstanding season with a 38-11 record overall and a share of the Gulf South Conference regular season title.
VSU finished the season with a national-best 109 home runs as it hit four in the two games this weekend, including three on Friday. The 109 home runs are good for third-most all-time in NCAA Division II behind 112 from Metro State in 2010 (59 games) and 114 from Humboldt State in 2013 in 67 games. VSU played just 49 games for the season and most likely will absolutely crush the NCAA Division II record for home runs in a game for a season at 2.24 per game. The previous best was a 1.93 clip set by Colorado Mesa in 2006 with 83 home runs in 43 games.
Friday marked the 19th time this season the Blazers hit three or more home runs in a game and the fourth time in the NCAA postseason. Blazer senior Kiley Robb belted her 18th home run of the season – a two run shot in the first inning for a 2-0 lead for the Blazers, while senior Logan Hill hit her 14th for the season in the fourth inning and a 3-0 lead. After UNG scored eight runs in the top of the fifth, sixth and seventh innings combined, freshman Aniston Gano belted her 14th home run in the bottom of the seventh for the final 8-4 margin and the 109th round-tripper of the season. VSU finished the year with six different players hitting double-digit home runs for the season as junior Nicole Pennington led the way with 24 home runs for the season. Both Pennington and freshman Morgan Hill each had 20 or more home runs as M. Hill finished second on the team with 20 round-trippers this season.
VSU went 4-3 in the NCAA Tournament this season as it now is 60-41 all-time in 19 appearances in the NCAA postseason. Blazer head coach Thomas Macera finished his 16th season in Titletown with a 699-202-2 at VSU and 905-276-2 all-time as a head coach. Macera guided VSU to the national title in 2012 as this season was the fifth year VSU had reached the National Championship round.
The Blazers had four players earn All-America honors in 2021 as the Blazers earned a share of the Gulf South Conference regular season title and won the NCAA South Region title last weekend in Valdosta. Pennington earned GSC Player of the Year honors, NCAA South Region Most Outstanding Player honors, NFCA First Team All-America, D2CCA First Team All-America honors this season. She also is a Top 15 finalist for Schutt Sports/NFCA National Player of the Year, which will be announced June 3.
Robb earned third team NFCA All-America honors and was a second team D2CCA All-American. Robb earned first team All-GSC honors in 2021 after earning second team accolades in 2019. She finished her storied career with 37 home runs and a blistering .682 slugging percentage for sixth all-time in school history. M. Hill also was a third-team NFCA All-America honoree as she earned honorable mention D2CCA All-America accolades. She was named GSC Freshman of the Year honors this season. Sophomore hurler Samantha Richards earned D2CCA Second Team All-America honors finishing the season with a 27-8 record overall, a 1.36 ERA and fanned 237, while walking just 23 for the season. Richards was named GSC Pitcher of the Year, named to the NCAA All-South Region Team and D2CCA Region Pitcher of the Year.
VSU senior Logan Hill also finished up a standout career for the Blazers. L. Hill, who was named to the GSC Top Ten in 2020, finished the COVID-19 shorted season leading the nation in home runs with 11. She earned Second Team Academic All-America honors as selected by CoSIDA last season. This season, she continued her outstanding play hitting a home run in her final game as a Blazer Friday and hit .342 for the season in 49 starts at first base. She played and started in 174 games for the Blazers and hit 39 home runs for seventh all-time in school history. She didn't have an error over her final three seasons at VSU.
Senior Lacey Crandall had an outstanding career behind the dish as she played in a staggering 232 games with 230 starts, which ties her for seventh all-time in school history in career games played (Fran Johnson, 2012-2015). Avery Lamb also finished her career as she made a huge start last weekend against West Florida in the final game of the regional helping VSU claim the regional title. She went 3-0 this season in 16 appearances with two start, while striking out 24 and walking just six. Lamb finished 26-9 in the circle in 80 appearances with 35 starts. She pitched 250.2 innings for her career with 157 strikeouts.
On Friday, things started promising for the Blazers with the early home run from Robb in the first inning as it marked the 23rd game this season the Blazers hit a home run in the first inning. UNG (42-7) loaded the bases in the fourth inning with two away. Richards got Cheyanne Mosteller to pop out to Crandall for the final out as the Nighthawks left the bags full.
On the first pitch of the bottom of the fourth, L. Hill blasted the second home run of the game for the Blazers and a 3-0 lead. Robb doubled to left center, but VSU was unable to bring her home. In the top of the fifth, the third error of the game on the Blazers proved costly as it extended the inning for Madison Simmons who, on a 0-2 count with two out, hit a home run down the left field line for a 3-2 score on her ninth home run of the season.
The momentum shifted drastically in the sixth as UNG began the frame with an infield single and a sacrifice bunt moved the runner into position. A single through the left side loaded the bases with one out. The fourth error on the Blazers tied the game. Richards and the Blazers got the second out, but Kaylyn Anthony came up with a huge single through the left side, plating two runs for a 5-3 UNG lead
The Nighthawks added two more runs helped out by the fifth error by the Blazers in the seventh as on a throwing error and then Shelby Hammontree singled home two runs for an 8-3 lead. Gano belted her home run in the bottom of the seventh for the final margin.
For the game the Blazers tallied four runs on four hits and the season-high five errors led to all eight runs for the Nighthawks. Robb went 2 for 3 with a home run, double, one run scored and two RBI. Richards (27-8) took the loss in seven innings, allowing 11 hits, eight unearned runs and fanned two.