The South Region I Tournament begins today at the VSU Softball Complex.
The No. 1-ranked Valdosta State Blazers (48-3) will host eighth-seeded Miles College tonight at 7. Fourth seed Rollins will face fifth seed Alabama-Huntsville at 4:30 p.m.
Valdosta State is an impressive 7-0 this season against teams participating in the Region I Tournament, having beaten Alabama-Huntsville five times and Miles twice this season.
Altogether, VSU is 14-1 against all the teams that qualified for the postseason from the South Region. The Blazers are 5-0 against West Alabama, 1-1 against Barry and 1-0 against Tampa, all of whom are playing at Tampa this weekend in the South Region II Tournament. VSU has yet to face Rollins and Florida Southern this season.
“It doesn’t matter any more,” Valdosta State head coach Thomas Macera said. “It is postseason play. Now, you are playing for your life. If you lose, you go home. It doesn’t matter what you’ve done in the past. I guarantee you that (those teams) aren’t thinking about the past. They want to win as bad as we do.”
The Blazers enter this weekend following a 5-0 mark last weekend in the Gulf South Conference tournament. They beat Delta State twice and West Alabama, Alabama-Huntsville and West Georgia once, en route to a fourth straight conference championship.
“It was awesome all the way around,” said senior second baseman April Hutchens. “We went in there and we fought. Everyone did.”
Having won the last four GSC championships, the Blazers have automatically qualified for the past four South Region Tournaments.
In 2009, a young Valdosta State team won the region tournament at the VSU Softball Complex. In 2010, the Blazers again won the region tournament on their home field, and wound up advancing to the national championship game.
“The fans are what made it so fun,” said senior shortstop Marti Littlefield about 2010. “Playing close to home, we probably rack up 500-plus fans here. They are just so enjoyable being here. It makes it a lot of fun.”
Last season, Alabama-Huntsville ended the Blazers’ season with two run-rule victories in the region tournament.
“Huntsville has always been a rival,” said Hutchens. “They have a big challenge every year. It can always go either way, but it would be nice to beat them.”
Since losing in the national title game two seasons ago, the Blazers have made it their mission to return to the final game of the season and avenge the 4-3 loss to Hawaii-Pacific. This season is the Blazers’ best chance, as they have looked like arguably the best team in the nation — a 36-game winning streak and a 48-3 overall record proves that.
“I don’t think there is a target,” Macera said. “When people come in here, they have to beat us to move on, and we have to beat them to move on. It doesn’t matter. ... I don’t think the target is any bigger on our back than anyone else’s, because you have to beat everyone to move on.”
And a national championship is the only way the senior class wants to go out, having accomplished everything else a team can accomplish.
“What else is there?,” Macera asked. “You know the old saying, ‘If you don’t win the last game of the season, you didn’t win anything.’ So yeah, we won the Gulf South Conference championship, and we are very privileged to win that four times, but if you don’t win the last game of the season, it is not what you set out to do. At the beginning of the year, we set out to win the national championship.”
“There would be nothing like it, to go out as four-year seniors with a national championship ring on,” said Littlefield.
Opponent scouting report:
No. 4 Rollins:
The Tars enter the South Region I tournament with a 40-9 record, after finishing tied with Barry for second in the Sunshine State Conference. The Tars are just 5-5 against teams that were ranked inside the top eight of the South Region. Rollins will face the University of Alabama-Huntsville in the opening game of the South Region I Tournament. The two teams split a pair of meetings on March 2, with Rollins winning 8-5 and falling 7-4.
Rollins is led by the play of Monica Meadows, who leads the team with nine homers, 44 runs batted in and 122 total bases.
No. 5 Alabama-Huntsville:
Valdosta State fans need no introduction to Alabama-Huntsville. The Lady Chargers have appeared in the national championship game in two of the past three seasons. This season, the Lady Chargers enter the weekend with a 41-14 mark, having lost to Valdosta State five times this season. Last season, UAH was an impressive 7-1 against the Blazers. Stephanie Needham is a power for UAH, as she leads the team with a .477 average, 18 home runs, 66 RBIs and 154 total bases. Needham was held to just one hit in the most recent game against VSU, which was last weekend at the GSC tournament.
No. 8 Miles:
Miles College is playing in the South Region I Tournament because of the NCAA’s automatic qualifier. If the Golden Bears had not won the Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference championship, they would not have qualified for the tournament. After all, they stand with just a 29-26 record. In two games against Valdosta State earlier this season, the Golden Bears were outscored by the high-powered Blazers 29-4, which included a 20-4 defeat in the first game of the doubleheader.
South Region I Tournament begins today at VSU Softball Complex
The South Region I Tournament begins today at the VSU Softball Complex.
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