HUNTSVILLE, Ala. -- In what has become a common occurence between two of the nation's best Division II softball teams, Valdosta State and Alabama-Huntsville slugged it out in round one of the South Super Regional, with the Blazers edging out a 9-8 victory at Charger Park on Friday night in Huntsville, Ala..
Playing late in a season where VSU softball program has relied heavily on their veterans in the top half of the order, the Blazers got a huge boost on Friday night from their young batters, as two freshmen - Morgan Butler and Heather Robinson - teamed up for three home runs that accounted for five of the Blazers' nine runs.
Huntsville's Mary Kelley opened up the scoring in the bottom of the first inning with a two-run blast that easily cleared the right field fence to give the Chargers an early 2-0 lead, but just one swing by Heather Robinson sent a Whitney Toler offering deep over the left field wall and plated three runs in the top of the second to quickly return the lead in favor of Valdosta State at 3-2.
Later in the same inning, Kiley Rusen contributed to the cause with a two-out laser off the left field fence to bring in Courtney Albritton, who reached first base just two batters earlier with her second walk of the game before she moved into scoring position on a Shelby Altman single through the left side. The RBI single for Rusen capped off a four-run second that pushed the Blazers in front with a 4-2 advantage.
The lead was one that the Blazers would narrowly retain throughout the rest of the night to give Brianna Hancock her 23rd win of the season. A senior, she remains undefeated in the 2014 postseason with a 7-0 record, compiled over the course of the Gulf South Conference Tournament and NCAA regional play.
The Blazers tacked on another run and took a 5-2 lead in the third with a low rocket off the bat of Butler that cleared the wall in left center, which represented the first round tripper of her career.
One half inning later, the Chargers climbed right back into the game when Macie Couey was hit by a pitch after Victoria Frith worked a one out walk. Kelley followed with another walk to load the bases for Kaitlyn Bannister, who slapped a two run single into shallow left field over the drawn in infield to cut the deficit to one at 5-4. The Blazer defense was able to quickly silence the threat, however, with a nifty play by Fran Johnson in right field, who ran down a shallow fly ball before alertly firing to first base to double up the aggressive Bannister, who had drifted too far off of first base.
Both teams went quietly in the fourth before Rusen led off the fifth with a walk. The Blazer first baseman gave way to pinch runner Brittany Britt, who advanced to second on a Chelsea Canara sacrifice bunt before coming in to score on an RBI double by Hannah Strickland that got through Bannister at third and rolled into the left field corner to put Valdosta State on top 6-4.
Valdosta State continued to pile on in the sixth, when senior April Collins led the inning off with a single to center to set the table for the top of the Blazer order. The red and black sluggers answered the call with back to back doubles by Albritton and Altman that lifted the Blazers to an 8-4 lead heading to the bottom of the inning.
Huntsville came Charging back with two more runs, thanks to a two run long ball by UAH first baseman and GSC freshman of the year Tyler Harrison. The homer brought in both Harrison and Bannister to bring the Chargers back to within two at 8-6 after six innings of play.
Entering the final inning of the nip-and-tuck affair, Robinson finished off her 2-for-4, four-RBI outing when she connected for the second time of the night with a no doubter to center field that accounted for what proved to be a critical insurance run, as the Chargers put together a string of at bats in the bottom of the final frame that had both teams on the edge of their seats.
Emily Glover ripped a double down the left field line to start off the rally, before Hancock struck out pinch hitter Nicole Bobrowski for the first out. Frith and Couey hit back-to-back singles in the next two at-bats to bring Glover across and bring up Kelley, who represented the winning run. Hancock uncorked a pitch that slid too far inside and hit the Charger catcher to load the bases. With the tying run at second and the go-ahead run at first, Hancock gave way to Caitlyn Calhoun, who came on to face the Chargers for the first time in 2014. Calhoun induced a sacrifice fly by Bannister to right field that pulled UAH to within one at 9-8 and moved the tying run into scoring position. Kelley promptly stole second base to set the Chargers up for a potential game-winning hit, but Calhoun denied the comeback and picked up her second save of the season when she forced Brianna Sullivan to ground out to third for the final out of the game.
The win represented the Blazers' third in a row against UAH and improved the red and black to a 44-13 record on the season, while the hosting Chargers fell to 47-11 overall.
The Blazers now lead the three-game series 1-0, with the action set to continue on Saturday at Charger Park. Game 2 is slated for a 2 p.m. ET start