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Stewart’s homer propels Blazers past Barry in extra innings

The VSU Blazers (15-3, 7-2 Gulf South Conference) avoided an upset bid from the Barry University Buccaneers (14-11, 5-4 Sunshine State Conference) in extra innings and came back to win in dramatic fashion, 5-4.

It was a warm afternoon in Valdosta, Georgia, and the occasional breeze blew over Steel’s Diamond as the Blazers looked to notch their 15th win on the season.

Coming in ranked No. 13 in the nation, the Blazers had high hopes for the victory March 7.

“We knew that we, as a team, were good enough to win this game,” senior pitcher Samantha Richards said.

Through the first four innings, the game was highlighted by the exceptional pitching of Richards. However, the game shifted in the bottom of the fifth.

With a runner on first and facing an 0-2 count, sophomore outfielder Abby Sulte hit a home run that just scaled out of the reach of the Buccaneer outfielder, giving the Blazers a 3-0 lead.

“That was a huge hit for us,” junior outfielder Morgan Hill said. “Once we got up 3-0, we started to feel a lot better.”

That feeling would be short lived as in the top of the sixth inning, with the bases loaded, Buccaneers infielder Rylee Lord hit a grand slam to give Barry a 4-3 advantage.

After that hit, the energy had been sucked out of Blazer Park. The only sound heard was the roar of cheers from the Buccaneer dugout.

The fans in attendance started to lose hope, but the Blazers in the dugout knew there was still time to right the ship.

“We didn’t get down on ourselves,” Hill said. “We knew we had to make a couple of adjustments, and once we did, we would get back in the game.”

As the first two batters were retired in the bottom of the sixth inning, facing a 2-2 count, Sulte hit a deep fly ball that just made it over the fence for her second home run to tie the game.

After a scoreless seventh inning, the Blazers and the Buccaneers went to extra innings, and the eighth inning was pure domination by the Blazers.

Richards never let a runner get on first in the top of the eighth inning. Still, the biggest play made in this match came in the bottom of the eighth.

Freshman centerfielder Jasmin Stewart stepped up to the plate, and the crowd began to cheer.

As she awaited the pitch, she planted her foot and launched the ball deep into centerfield. From the moment it left the bat, everyone in Blazer Park knew it was gone.

“She has worked her butt off this season,” Richards said. “We were so happy that she made that play.”

As Stewart trotted past third, her fellow Blazers welcomed her at home plate as the Blazers cemented the comeback to stave off the upset.

After the game, Head Coach Thomas Macera shared his thoughts on the match.

“It’s still early on in the season, and there are plenty of things we need to work on,” Macera said. “We will take this win and get ready for our next opponent.”

The Blazers host No. 3 Tampa for a doubleheader at Steel’s Diamond on March 9 at 4 p.m.

Written by Jack Calhoun, Staff Writer. Photo courtesy of Bailey Storey, Photo Editor.

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