Albany State baseball coach Kenyan Conner was especially proud of Wednesday's win against rival Valdosta State because the Rams "beat a good team, not just a team in our conference," he said.
VALDOSTA — If the Albany State Rams were looking for a defining moment to jumpstart their 2012 season, they may have found it Wednesday at Billy Grant Field in Valdosta.
For the first time in seven years, the Rams defeated annual powerhouse and bitter rival Valdosta State, and this time they did so in convincing fashion. The ASU pitching staff combined to allow just six hits, and the Rams got base hits in key situations to knock off the Blazers, 7-3.
“Timely hits and good pitching, that’s what baseball is and we had some of it,” Albany State coach Kenyan Conner said. “We answered the challenge. We beat a good team, not just a team in our conference.”
The Rams, who had last beaten the Blazers on Feb. 10, 2005, are now 1-3 overall. They got swept by Nova Southeastern in the season-opening series over the weekend, losing three games by a combined 34 runs.
“We are at that crossroads now of, ‘Am I good or am I not?’ ” Conner said. “We just have to have confidence in what we are doing. Our whole goal is to get better by the end of the year. The kids are happy and I am happy because we won the game. But that’s why we are happy. It really doesn’t matter who the opponent is. It does, (however), give you a good measuring stick of your potential.”
The ASU pitching staff, which walked an amazing 17 hitters in the team’s season-opening loss to Nova Southeastern on Friday, still had some control issues Wednesday when they issued nine bases on balls. But the difference against Valdosta State was the defense behind the Rams’ arms, Conner said.
“Only had one error all night,” he said. “The walks don’t hurt you if you don’t make errors behind him.”
The Blazers stranded 12 base runners — at least one in every inning but the third and ninth — and had the bases loaded in the second inning with no outs but came away with no runs.
The Rams broke the game open in the top of the fifth inning when former Westover star Jacob Campbell opened up the frame with a double. Ryan Latner and Corbin Williams singled, Theodore Tramontana drew a walk and Eddie Mathis was hit by a pitch during an inning where the Rams plated four runs and took command of the game.
The Blazers (1-3) got on the board in the bottom of the seventh on an RBI single by Austin Lawrence, but the Rams quickly struck back with four hits and three runs in the top of the eighth.
ASU starter Donte Williams threw five innings, allowed just one hit, struck out six and walked six. Ken Nesbitt and Clifford Peterson each pitched two innings of relief and combined to allow five hits and three earned runs. Reigning conference Player of the Year William Smalls, Williams and Campbell each had two hits, while Williams and Stephen Lightfoot each drove in two runs.
ASU plays again this weekend in a three-game series at Shorter College. The Rams will play a doubleheader Saturday, with the first game starting at noon and then play a single game Sunday at 1 p.m.