No.9 Valdosta State (11-3, 3-3) battled back to split Saturday’s doubleheader against Gulf South Conference rival No. 25 Delta State (6-5, 5-3).
In game one, the Blazers played from behind early against the Statesmen and were unable to bounce back as DSU showed sound defense and timely hitting.
After a leadoff single in the third by DSU left-fielder Hunter Twitty, third-basemen Landon Thibodeaux hit a two-run homer, just getting over the left field fence.
VSU second baseman Matthew Fears scored on a sacrifice fly by catcher Bryant Hayman in the bottom half of the inning to make the score 2-1 after three.
Two innings later in the fifth, the Statesmen put three runs up on three hits and a walk. After going up 5-1 in the fifth, they never looked back.
Hayman hit his fourth homerun on the season on a solo shot in the sixth inning to extend their lead to 5-3.
DSU summoned ace Michael Manley to the mound, who threw a complete game allowing only three runs on nine VSU hits.
The Blazers’ ace Dom DeMasi struggled in the first game as the Statesmen posted six runs on 10 hits during his 6 1/3 innings.
“He was leaving the ball up in the strike zone, and against a good team like Delta State, that has good hitters if you continue to pitch up in the strike zone you’re going to get hit,” head coach Greg Guilliams said of DeMasi’s performance.
The Statesmen didn’t miss a beat with VSU relievers, scoring a run in each of the last three innings to finish the game with a final score of 8-3.
Things were a little different in game two as the teams bounced back and forth with the lead throughout the game.
The Blazers struck the scoreboard first with a RBI double by Jimmy Dowdell in the first that scored shortstop Mike Reed from second base.
DSU was able to answer right away next half inning with a run of its own when Blazers starting pitcher Josh Mann hit a batter with the bases loaded.
Damage could have been worse if not for Matthew Fears’ diving catch with bases loaded to force the final out.
“They would have scored two more runs if that ball gets through and that would have made it tough for us to come back at that time. That was a key moment in this game for us.” Guilliams said on Fears big play with the glove.
The Statesmen would go on to take the lead 2-1 in the top of the fourth after a deep sacrifice fly to the right fielder scored the leadoff hitter of the inning.
VSU would fight back though and put up two runs up in the bottom the fifth inning off RBI singles by Matthew Fears and Bryant Hayman to take a 3-2 lead that would be short lived after DSU answered with a run of its own in the top of the sixth, tying the game at three.
In the bottom half of the sixth, VSU answered again with a huge two-out RBI single up the middle by Fears that gave VSU a 4-3 lead entering the last inning.
VSU Closer Ethan Bornstein replaced Mann in the seventh. Bornstein recorded two strikeouts while picking up his third save of the season.
Mann battled early trouble yet finished with another quality start for the Blazers, going six innings allowing three runs (two earned) on just five hits and two walks.
Rubber Match will be played tomorrow, 1 p.m. at Billy Grant Field.
This article was written by Chris Webb.