May 21—VALDOSTA — Home is where the heart is.
In front of a full capacity crowd for the first time all season, the No. 9 Valdosta State softball team blasted three home runs in an 8-0 run rule victory over Alabama-Huntsville on Friday.
The Blazers had not played a home game since sweeping rival West Georgia on April 18 — more than a month ago. VSU head softball coach Thomas Macera spoke about his team's performance in a post-game press conference following Thursday's victory.
"We played great," Macera said. "Two weeks ago, we go up there and we played good there. We didn't play bad, just nothing went our way. We didn't get a single break and just everything went against us. ... We come out today and Sam (Richards) throws a three-hitter and we made every play behind her. Kiley (Robb) made several plays at second, we caught some fly balls, Nikki (Pennington) took a slapper who's normally safe and just throws a rod across the infield and it's not even close. Everything just went our way."
Robb's two-run blast gave the Blazers a 7-0 lead in the bottom of the fifth. Then in the bottom of the sixth, Pennington came on and singled through the left side for the walk-off run rule victory.
Though she struck out her first two times at the plate, Robb said she wasn't fazed.
"Just hitting the ball hard," Robb said. "We have our little sayings like, 'Elevate, celebrate' and 'If it's high, let it fly,' stuff like that, but just hitting the ball hard. I struck out my first two times, but I knew that I couldn't let that destroy me for the rest of the game so I just keep swinging and keep hitting the ball hard."
With the three home runs against the Chargers, the Blazers tied a single-season and Gulf South Conference record with 98. The victory was also the 18th run rule win for the team this season.
Freshman Morgan Hill crushed the first pitch she saw to deep center for her 17th home run of the season and the second long ball of the game. The first home run by freshman Aniston Gano in the bottom of the first was a three-run shot — one Macera viewed as key to Blazers' victory.
"We hit the ball well — three home runs, two freshmen hit home runs and one senior," Macera said. "That one in the very beginning that Gano hit right there takes a load off when you go up 3-0 in postseason. That really helps the defense calm down a little bit because they don't have to play perfect, but they did today so I'm proud of them. They couldn't have done any better."
Known for his hard-nosed style and unflinching demeanor, Macera was emotional when asked what it means to play in front of the home crowd for the first time in over a month.
"Oh, my gosh. I've been doing this for so long," Macera said, choking back tears. "That's the part that's good about playing at VSU is we have the best fans. ... Our fans, it's unbelievable. I've been here 17 years. They haven't let us down yet."
The No. 2-seeded Blazers lost to the No. 5 seed West Florida Argos 4-0 Friday afternoon and faced the winner of the Rollins-Auburn Montgomery game at 6 p.m. The winner of Friday evening's matchup will face West Florida in Saturday's NCAA South Region Championship game at 1 p.m. Check back on valdostadailytimes.com for a full recap of Friday's game.