May 28, 2010

By Bo Allegrucci
Special to

ST. JOSEPH, Mo. - Valdosta State stopped North Georgia's winning streak at 51 games with a 6-1 upset in the second round of NCAA Division II softball winners bracket Friday at the Heritage Park Softball Complex.

The campuses of the two schools are a mere four hours apart in Georgia, but after a March doubleheader was snowed out, they had to travel 1,000 miles to meet for the first time this season on the east bank of the Missouri River.

It's believable now North Georgia (51-1) might not have had their undefeated season had Valdosta State (49-8) gotten a crack at them in March. Blazer pitcher Holly Satterfield was mesmerizing Friday, striking out eight while allowing just three hits and an unearned run in 6 2/3 innings.

"I knew I would have to throw my A-game today," Satterfield said. "I knew I'd have to hit my corners and throw hard, and my drop-ball was working."

Valdosta State will get Saturday off before playing for a chance at the national final on Sunday at 1 p.m.

North Georgia ace Sarah Phillips, on the other hand, simply didn't have it Friday. The first-team All-America went the distance, but she surrendered eight hits and five earned runs while walking three and striking out four.

"I got behind in the count and I kept having to throw one for a strike, and they (Valdosta) took advantage of that," Phillips said. "I'd rather give up a base hit then let the batter just stand up there and walk. It was frustrating, but I didn't help myself out much."

North Georgia took its only lead with a run in its very first at-bat. After Laura Voyles drew a leadoff walk and Lauren Dykes dropped a bunt single, Voyles scored on a double-steal.

Satterfield recovered to strike out two in the bottom of the first to minimize the damage, and the Blazers offense answered emphatically against Phillips.

Sarah Vaughn's two-out, RBI single in the top of the second tied the game at 1, and Valdosta State unleashed a crippling two-out rally in the top of the third. Marti Littlefield singled home Melessa Jackson, and after an intentional walk to Alyssa Shirey, Stephanie Carlson's double to right-center scored Littlefield and Shirey to make it 4-1.

Carlson scored on a North Georgia fielding error two pitches later, and the 5-1 hole was North Georgia's biggest deficit of the season. The Saints had never trailed by more than two runs to that point, and had not trailed at all since Francis Marion led 5-4 in the fourth inning of the conference championship game April 18.

"You're trying to do damage control at that point," North Georgia coach Mike Davenport said. "We've got the ability to swing the bats and score some runs in a hurry, but I think offensively we tried to do too much too quick once they got the lead.

"We didn't play extremely well, but credit Valdosta State ... they earned the win."

With the sudden run support, Satterfield retired 16 consecutive North Georgia batters between the first and sixth innings, and the Blazer defense had several big plays along the way.

"My team played great ... I'm blessed just to be sitting on a bucket watching them," Valdosta State coach Thomas Macera said. "Our defense has been a bug this year sometimes, but Marti (Littlefield) runs down a ball behind third base, Hutch (April Hutchens) makes a great play on a ball most second baseman don't even get to, MJ (Jackson) makes a great diving catch in right field ... and those were all big outs.

"I can't tell you how excited I am for these girls to put up that kind of game on such a big national stage."

Valdosta State added an insurance run in the top of the sixth when Colette Rollins singled and scored on a North Georgia error.

The Saints made things interesting in the bottom of the seventh, loading the bases and chasing Satterfield after a walk, an error and a base-hit, but Valdosta State reliever Margaret Carter came on to record the game's final out for the second straight day.

North Georgia drops into the loser's bracket of the double-elimination tournament and will play the winner of Saturday's Molloy-Bloomsburg game at 6 p.m. on Saturday.