VALDOSTA, Ga. – Valdosta State beat Palm Beach Atlantic twice Sunday, 2-1, 5-2, to advance to the NCAA Division II South Regional Championship against either Arkansas-Monticello or Alabama-Huntsville.
After dropping a game to PBA Saturday, the Lady Blazers needed to beat the Sailfish twice Sunday to advance. The first game was a defensive struggle that showcased three excellent pitchers: PBA's Ashley Jones and VSU's Holly Satterfield and Margaret Carter. Not a run was scored until Palm Beach Atlantic put up a run in the 10th inning.
The Sailfish were close to scoring in the seventh inning, but Morgan Johnson teamed with Alyssa Shirey to end the threat. Mari Stokes tried to get home from second base on a rocket grounder from Dani Perrotti. Johnson scooped up the ball and drilled it to Shirey to catch Stokes at the plate. After that, Johnson caught a liner to left field from Miranda Welch to end the inning.
In the 10th inning, Erica Walters reached on an error and advanced to second on another error, two of VSU's seven errors committed in the game. On a single to left center, Walters went to third. After that, Candace Horton, the PBA designated player, hit a ball to right field. Amber Shaw made the play and threw Horton out at first, but Walters scored the lone run of the game to that point.
Needing at least a run in the 10th, Valdosta State scored two to win it. Marti Littlefield reached on an error to start the inning. Valdosta State's season hung in the balance two outs later with freshman Sarah Vaughn at the plate. She pushed Littlefield to third and reached second on a dropped ball by the left fielder.
Ashley Steinhilber, another freshman, put the ball in play to the shortstop next. Caitlin Bouschet bobbled the ball and overthrew second, allowing Littlefield and Vaughn to score the winning runs in the bottom of the 10th.
The day wasn't over for either team though. The Sailfish hadn't lost all weekend, so VSU had to put them away twice.
It didn't look good early when the Lady Blazers gave up two unearned runs in the first. After that, Carter only gave up three hits in the six remaining innings.
Carter finished the day with two wins and three strikeouts in 9.1 innings of play. She gave up eight hits and no earned runs. Satterfield went 7.2 innings with just three hits allowed along with three strikeouts of her own.
Shirey gave VSU hope with a solo home run off Jones in the fourth inning to pull within one. Then Valdosta State proved how tough it is to hold a hitting team down with a four runs in the sixth inning.
Littlefield singled to left field and scored on a well placed hit down the left field line by Shirey. Stephanie Carlson used a sacrifice bunt to advance Shirey, the go ahead run, to second. With that, Palm Beach Atlantic pulled Jones. For the day, she finished with a 1.80 earned run average. Jones struck out 13 batters and walked just one in 15 innings.
Heather Laird tried her hand for Palm Beach Atlantic, and it did not go well. Vaughn started with a triple down the right field line to score Shirey and pull ahead for VSU. Then Steinhilber singled to left field to bring in Vaughn.
April Hutchens moved Amy Brightwell, running for Steinhilber, to second with a single to left field. With that, Laird walked two consecutive batters to score the fifth and final run for VSU.
Palm Beach Atlantic could not answer in the sixth or seventh innings. Valdosta State's power hitting lineup was able to outlast the outstanding pitching of Jones. Hutchens and Shaw were the only Lady Blazers to put up hits in the first game.
In the second game, VSU's top offensive performers were Shirey (three for four with two runs scored and two RBIs) and Vaughn (two for two with a run and an RBI). Six other Lady Blazers tallied hits in the win.
As the top team in the south region, Valdosta State earned the right to host super regionals with Sunday's victories. Arkansas-Monticello and Alabama-Huntsville play Monday for the right to face VSU for the south regional championship. It will be a best of three series to be played Friday and Saturday.