Holding Strong: Richards dominates as Blazers sweep Hurricanes

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Shane Thomas, The Valdosta Daily Times, Ga.
·5 min read
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Mar. 22—VALDOSTA — No. 7 Valdosta State softball continued its winning ways with a sweep of the Georgia Southwestern Hurricanes on Saturday.

The Blazers (16-3) overcame a third-inning rally to squeak past the Hurricanes (8-5) 6-5 in Game 2, extending their winning streak to five games.

Valdosta State opened up a 4-1 lead on an RBI single by Nicole Pennington in the bottom of the second inning, but the Hurricanes managed to claw back by capitalizing on miscues by the Blazers' defense.

Pitcher Zoe Willis cut the lead to 4-3 with a two-run RBI single, then Katelyn Wood came to the plate and blasted a two-run home run to center field to put the Hurricanes ahead 5-4.

Game 2 starter Morgan Hill recovered nicely as she got Lauren Kuerzi and Hailey Pinette to ground out to end the top half of the third inning.

Hill got out of the top of the fourth inning by forcing Morgan Mullin and Allyson Murdock to ground out and striking out Kimmy Singer to get the Blazer offense back to the plate.

Pennington took full advantage of the defensive stand as she belted a home run to deep left field just inside the foul pole to tie the game at 5.

"Not everything bounces your way," VSU head coach Thomas Macera said. "That's the game. That's what's so great about this game is that it's hard. Hard ground balls are unforgiving and you're going to make mistakes but the great thing is that these girls fought back. We were up 4-0 and got behind, but yet, we didn't lay down. They kept fighting and found ways to score some runs and we've been hitting good so it was an overall good team win."

Hill gave way to Game 1 starter Samantha Richards after allowing five runs (two earned), three hits and two walks with five strikeouts in four innings of work.

Richards immediately made her presence felt as she struck out Chloe Zoeller, got Kayla Kerr to pop up and struck out Willis to end the top half of the fifth inning.

After neither offense could break through, the Blazers found themselves back at the plate in the bottom of the sixth. Center fielder Hunter Meadows reached on an error by Singer at shortstop, then advanced to second on another error by the Hurricanes to spark momentum in the Blazers' favor.

Morgan Hill followed up the error by making good on a sacrifice bunt to move Meadows into scoring position. Pennington drew a walk to put two Blazers on base before Logan Hill came up with a clutch sac fly RBI to give VSU a 6-5 lead.

Richards wasted little time slamming the door shut as she got Ansley Duffey to ground out then struck out Singer and Zoeller to secure the 6-5 victory.

"That's the good thing, we can do a lot of different things on offense," Macera said. "It ain't just one thing. We had a suicide squeeze today (in Game 1). I told them we just need to manufacture runs somehow and then let Sam and the defense take care of business after that and we were able to get that done. We had a few on base that could run and got the stuff we needed to hit and it worked out for us today."

Pennington went 3-for-3 in Game 2 with two runs, four RBIs and a walk, while Morgan Hill went 2-for-3 with a run scored and an RBI. Baylee Everson went 2-for-3 with a run scored while Meadows went 1-for-2 with two runs scored.

GAME 1

The Blazers took Game 1 by the score of 4-0.

Aniston Gano's two-run stand-up double capped the victory in the bottom of the fifth as the Blazers scored four runs on six hits with one error in the opener. Hunter Meadows gave VSU a 2-0 lead on a sac fly RBI that allowed Gano to score in the bottom of the second inning.

Morgan Hill opened the scoring for the Blazers with a home run to right center field in the bottom of the first inning.

Samantha Richards got the start in Game 1 and delivered a complete game shutout in the circle for the Blazers. Richards went seven innings and struck out eight while allowed only two hits and two walks. Heading into the top of the seventh, Richards had retired 14 consecutive batters.

Richards picked up the win in relief in Game 2, going 2-0 on the day. In all, Richards pitched 10 innings, allowing three hits, no runs with two walks and 14 strikeouts in the sweep.

"The biggest thing about Sam — she's come a long way in two years," Macera said of Richards. "She's worked her butt off. She throws really hard with really good movement and she has multiple pitches, but if something goes sideways, Sam don't get upset. Sam mentally is as tough as nails. That's really what makes her the pitcher she is. She's got the mental focus."

Pennington, who hit two home runs to increase her total to eight on the season, went 2-for-3 in Game 1 while Gano went 1-for-2 with two RBIs.

UP NEXT

The Blazers host West Florida in a three-game series starting Saturday, March 27.

The Argos (18-7, 12-3) currently sit second in the Gulf South Conference behind the Blazers and have won three straight games.

"West Florida's good...they're really good," Macera said. "They've got good pitching, they can hit the ball, they've got some kids that can run, so we've got our hands full. It's conference. The Gulf South is a tough conference in every sport we've got. Softball's no different. There's always three or four teams in the Gulf South Conference ranked in the Top 25. They're good and we've just got to play good."