TAMPA — In another classic, one-run battle between Valdosta State and University of Tampa in softball, the Blazers came up with a gutsy, 5-4 victory Friday afternoon to advance to the NCAA South Region #2 Championship Saturday.
The tournament is a double-elimination format.
The Blazers now will await the opponent to be determined as they are the lone team in this portion of the regional to not have a loss.
Embry-Riddle, Rollins and Tampa all have to play Friday afternoon and evening to see who will face VSU Saturday at 1 p.m.
VSU would need just one win Saturday to win this side of the region bracket. The "if necessary" game is scheduled for 4 p.m.
The Spartans (36-12) scored three runs in the top of the first with two out set up by a single to left a bunt single and three-straight RBI singles, while VSU responded in the bottom of the first with a leadoff single from sophomore Morgan Hill, followed by a double from senior Nikki Pennington and walk to graduate student Ally Clegg loaded the bases.
Sophomore Katie Proctor reached on a fielder's choice and a throwing error scored the first run, plating Hill.
Tampa used a fielder's choice to sophomore Taylor Macera to get the second out of the inning at the plate.
The Spartans got out of the inning with a strikeout.
VSU hurler Samantha Richards retired the Spartans in order in the top of the second, but the Blazers did big damage in the bottom of the frame as redshirt senior Baylee Everson singled to short stop, then got caught in a run down, but was able to steal second avoiding the tag. Junior Hunter Meadows singled up the middle.
With one out and Meadows at third, Pennington hit a sacrifice fly for a 3-2 score.
Back-to-back RBI doubles followed from Clegg and sophomore Aniston Gano for a 4-3 VSU lead, chasing UT starter Mariah Galhouse from the circle in favor of Mary Beth Feldman.
In the third, Galhouse began the inning with a single and moved to second, but was stranded there.
The bottom of the inning saw junior Taylor Lewis draw a walk to begin the frame and then moved to second on a sacrifice bunt and third on a ground out.
Hill then came up with a single to center with two out for a 5-3 lead.
A leadoff single from Tampa began the fifth, but Lilly Kiester hit right back to Richards for an out and Richards alertly thew to first for a big double play.
Galhouse singled down the left field line with two away and a long fly ball to left ended the threat.
With one on and two out, a very questionable fair/foul call down the right field line was ruled fair in favor of Tampa for runners at the corners.
On a 2-2 count to Mackenzie Allen, Richards came back with a huge strikeout looking for possibly her biggest strikeout of the season to that point, to get out of the jam and preserve the 5-3 lead heading to the bottom of the sixth.
Tampa began the top of the seventh with two singles. Galhouse put the runners in scoring position with one out on a sacrifice bunt. Corynn Miner singled to center and Meadows threw an absolute dart to home to gun the would-be tying run at the plate for two out. With two on and a 1-2 count, Richards induced a foul out to third to end the game and advance to the NCAA South Region #2 Championship.
After two heartbreaking, one-run losses to Tampa early the season, the Blazers turned the tables Friday with the victory. It was the sixth-straight game with Tampa decided by one run. It also snapped a five-game skid against the Spartans as VSU now is 33-12 all-time against UT.
VSU (36-11) finished with five runs on eight hits for the game as Hill was 2 for 3 with two runs scored and one RBI, while Meadows also was 2 for 3 with a run scored. Richards (27-8) went all seven innings, allowing 13 hits, four earned runs, walked none and fanned three. She now has 590 strikeouts for her career and 290 for the season to lead the Gulf South Conference.
Galhouse took the loss for the Spartans (15-8) as she went 1.2 inning, allowing six hits, four runs – three earned, walked one and fanned two. Feldman went 4.1 innings, allowing two hits, one earned run, walked two and fanned three. Offensively, UT was led by Lauren Fantone, going 3 for 4 with two runs scored, leading four different players with multi-hit games.