The Valdosta Daily Times
The Valdosta State softball team used a fifth inning grand slam by Marti Littlefield to pull away and beat arch-rival Alabama-Huntsville 9-4 on Day 2 of the South Region I Tournament Saturday afternoon at the VSU Softball Complex.
“It felt amazing,” said Littlefield. “I had been on her the whole game, and she had been sliding pitches and I finally just sat back and drove one.”
Littlefield’s grand slam continued a monster break out inning for the top-ranked Blazers (50-3), who managed six runs in the frame to build an 8-2 lead. VSU has scored more runs in the fifth inning than any other inning this season.
“Usually, the old saying with us in the huddle is that we call the sixth inning ‘the Aflac inning,’ meaning we need some insurance,” said Valdosta State head coach Thomas Macera. “Usually we own the sixth inning, and this year it has changed a little bit. We are putting it together in the fifth inning. They find one inning they want to show out, and they do a good job at it.”
After Clare Wamsley began the inning with a fly out to left field, April Hutchens reached base on an error, which was followed by three straight singles from Courtney Albritton, Morgan Johnson and Samantha Posey. Then Littlefield blasted her grand slam clear over the center field fence, which sent the 534 screaming VSU fans into a ruckus, and ultimately secured the win for the Blazers.
“Four runs, we are already hitting well, and you put up a four-spot on anybody, it is tough for them to come back,” said Macera. “I think that really hurt (UAH). We just kept hitting the ball; I mean, we had 12 hits today.”
VSU added one more run in the inning. April Collins, who pinch ran for Natalia Morozova, scored on a sacrifice fly by Angela O’Connor.
UAH managed a solo home run by Abby MacKay in the top of the sixth inning, which was offset by another Blazer run in the bottom half of the inning, and a solo home run by Stephanie Needham in the seventh inning to bring the score to 9-4.
With the win, the Blazers are now a perfect 6-0 this season against UAH. Valdosta State advanced straight to the tournament championship game, which will be played today at 1 p.m. against Rollins, who beat UAH 4-2 Saturday night.
Valdosta State needs just one victory to advance to its second South Super Regional in three seasons. Rollins needs to sweep the top-ranked Blazers to advance, something that no team has been able to accomplish this season.
“Anything can happen,” said Macera. “We haven’t been swept all year, but again, it is ball, anything can happen. But it puts us in a small advantage, and it takes the pressure off, knowing we only have to win one (today).”
“It takes a lot of pressure off,” Littlefield added. “We haven’t been swept all year, and we aren’t usually a team that loses twice. We always hit the ball hard, and our hitting always comes through at some point.”
Alabama-Huntsville took an early 1-0 lead in Saturday’s game, as Mary Kelley scored on a single by Kathryn Whitlock.
VSU answered in the bottom of the second inning. Ashley Steinhilber reached base with a two-out single. The following at-bat, Steinhilber’s good friend Sarah Vaughn blasted a home run over the right center field fence to give the Blazers a 2-1 lead.
Vaughn is now batting over .500 with two home runs and seven RBIs against UAH this season.
The Chargers responded in the fourth inning. MacKay reached base on a walk, and was replaced by Sam Deep, who scored on a double by Meagan Billingsley.
VSU pitcher Alanna Hadley (27-2) was effective Saturday, pitching all seven innings and allowing four runs (all earned) on six hits. She walked two and struck out six batters, four of which came in the first four outs of the game.
“They are a great hitting team,” said Macera. “So, she gave up a few. Like I told her, ‘You are not going to shut everybody out in postseason play. The best teams are here.’ What she has to do is keep it close and give us a chance to play behind her, and that is what she did.”
The Blazers were aided throughout the day by impressive defensive plays, especially in the third inning, where all three outs came on tough plays. The first out came when Albritton snatched a home run clean out of the air in center field, timing her jump at the correct time to rob Needham of a homer.
For the next out, Hutchens was forced to field a ground ball far to her left — nearly behind first base — and she was able to make the throw from her knee to record the out.
Later in the inning, Littlefield was able to tag out UAH’s Kelli Long at third base after ranging to her left to field a ground ball.
“Smiley (Albritton) made a play out in center field on a line drive that could have gone out, and she had to go into the air to get it,” said Macera. “It showed off her basketball skills from high school, because she got us some ups there. And then Hutchens made a play over at first, that someone may think is easy, but anyone else, that is a base hit. So we had some really great defensive plays today. I am really proud of them.”