By Matt Green
VALDOSTA, Ga. – The Shorter softball team completed a 3-1 road conference weekend on Sunday, earning a split with defending NCAA Division II national champion and No. 2-ranked Valdosta State. The Lady Hawks won the nightcap 3-0 after falling 5-1 in the opener.
Shorter, which swept West Florida on Saturday, improves to 22-4 overall and 10-2 in the Gulf South Conference – the Lady Hawks remain alone in first place in the league standings. The Blazers fall to 23-6 overall and 10-4 in the GSC and remain two games behind the Lady Hawks in the conference standings.
In Game 2, Shorter's Christina Ezell sizzled in a complete-game, three-hit shutout of the defending champs as Shorter blanked the Blazers, 3-0.
Ezell got all the run support she would need in a three-run Shorter third, as the Lady Hawks plated runs courtesy of a Blazers' fielding error followed by RBI singles from Bre Johnson and Sarah Corn. The Lady Hawks finished with five hits off of Valdosta State starter Hanna Lythberg.
Ezell cruised on the rubber against one of the league's most potent offenses, striking out eight Blazers while walking just two. She did not allow a hit after the fourth inning as Shorter won its sixth game this season against a team ranked in the NCAA Division II Top 25 Poll.
Corn went 2-for-3 to lead the Lady Hawks offensively as Felicia Morris, Bre Johnson and Kendall Johnson also recorded hits for Shorter. Ezell was phenomenal in the circle, holding Valdosta State's top three batters hitless in eight official at-bats.
Valdosta State had its hands full in the opener against Shorter, salvaging a split by withstanding a late Lady Hawks' charge in Game 1.
Valdosta State slugger Courtney Albritton homered twice and the Blazers survived a bases loaded jam in the seventh to hang on for a 5-1 victory.
Albritton hit solo homers in the second and fourth innings for her GSC leading 13th and 14th home runs of the season. Her first homer helped the Blazers out to a 4-0 lead after Valdosta State had scored three runs in the first off RBI hits from Shelby Altman and Kiley Rusen.
Kayla Cooper homered for the Lady Hawks, a solo shot in the Shorter third that trimmed VSU's lead to 4-1, but Shorter hit into a pair of double plays in the final three innings that squandered any rally attempts.
Shorter loaded the bases in the top of the seventh with two outs behind a single from Whitney Hood and back-to-back walks of Cooper and Morris. That chased VSU starter Brianna Hancock and brought the tying run to the plate, but reliever Kenzi Reed got Jackie Castaneda to line out for the final out of the game.
Hood paced Shorter in the opener with two hits while Cooper, Bre Johnson and Amanda Dailey each went 1-for-3. Maddie Bray suffered the loss in the circle, surrendering five earned runs on eight hits in six innings.
Albritton was the only player on either team to record three hits in Game 1, going 3-for-4. Hancock allowed just one run and five hits to the Lady Hawks in 6.2 innings pitched before being lifted and earned the win.
The Lady Hawks continue GSC play on Wednesday, March 20 when No. 17-ranked West Alabama comes to the Alto Park Softball Complex for a doubleheader beginning at 1 pm.