VALDOSTA, GA. (vstateblazers.com) — Behind three home runs to break the Gulf South Conference single season record, the No. 9 Valdosta State softball team responded with a 5-2 victory Friday evening over No. 21 Rollins College in a NCAA South Region elimination game. VSU improved to 36-9 on the year, while Rollins ended its season at 21-4. VSU now has hit 101 home runs for the season in just 45 games.
The Blazers advance to the NCAA Division II South Region Championship versus West Florida Saturday at 1 p.m. VSU will need to defeat West Florida twice tomorrow to win the regional. UWF, the No. 5-seed in the regional, handed VSU a 4-0 loss Friday afternoon to advance to the regional championship with a 3-0 record. The Blazers are 2-1 in the regional to this point.
A total of five home runs were hit in the game, including three by the Blazers and six of the seven runs in the game were courtesy of round-trippers. VSU hit three in the game for a national-leading 101 home runs for the season for seventh all-time in NCAA Division II, one shy of tying Lenoir-Rhyne (2010). VSU also leads the nation in home runs per game at a staggering 2.24 average per game.
VSU was led by freshman Morgan Hill, who was 2 for 3 with a run scored and an RBI on a home run in the first inning and the first batter of the game. It was her 18th home run of the season. Her older sister, senior Logan Hill, went 1 for 1 with a run scored, two RBI, a walk and her 13th home run of the season, while senior Lacey Crandall went 1 for 3 with a run scored and an RBI on her tenth round-tripper of the season.
After a three-up-three down top of the first, M. Hill took a 1-1 pitch deep to left field for the home run and a new Gulf South Conference record 99th home run of the season for the Blazers, breaking their own record of 98 set in 2009 in 65 games. More impressively, this is game 45 for the Blazers this season. Rollins' starter Ali Shenefield, who entered with a 13-0 record and a 0.76 ERA, gave up just her third home run of the season. Shenefield has pitched 20.2 innings in the regional so far out of 21 innings, including the first elimination game for the Tars earlier today and over 115 pitches in the win over Auburn Montgomery prior to playing VSU.
On a 2-2 count with two out in the top of the second, Tyler Jo Colby, hit a home run to left field, her second long ball of the season as she was hitting .157 entering the at bat tying the score at 1-1. VSU hurler Samantha Richards got a ground out to get out of the inning. The Blazers responded in kind in the bottom of the inning as Crandall went deep for the tenth time of the season and the 100th home run of the year for the team, regaining the lead at 2-1.
With one on and one out in the bottom of the third, L. Hill belted the third home run of the game for the Blazers for a 4-1 lead, chasing Shenefield from the contest. It also marked the 17th time this season VSU has hit three or more home runs in a game and second time in the regional as it had three long balls yesterday in the 8-0 win over #16 Alabama Huntsville.
In the top of the sixth, Chelsea Peace hit her 11th home run of the season with two out, cutting the Blazer lead to 4-2. A single to right followed, but Richards and the Blazers got a fly out to center to end the inning. In the bottom of the frame, a walk began the inning for L. hill, followed by a sacrifice bunt and then an infield single for runners at the corners. Freshman Taylor Macera put down a great bunt, plating L. Hill on the squeeze for a 5-2 lead and a huge insurance run.
Richards fanned Cynthia Witty for her fourth strikeout of the game and a fly out to right followed, but a hit batter to pinch hitter Lindsay Gehring kept the inning alive for the Tars. On a 3-2 count Taylor Waters singled up the middle bringing pinch-hitter Tristin Peace to the plate as the tying run. Richards fanned Peace looking for the final out of the game and her fifth strikeout against no walks for her 25th victory of the season.
She went all seven innings, allowing five hits, two earned runs and the five K's, while throwing 107 pitches. She improved to 25-6 on the year. Shenefield went 2.1 innings, allowing four hits, four earned runs, walked none and fanned four. It was the first loss of the season for Shenefield (13-1). Ashley Worrell finished the final 3.2 innings, allowing two hits, one earned run, walked one and fanned three.