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Nightmare start at conference tourney for Lady Rams

ASU softball coach Robert Skinner was beside himself Thursday after losing in the first round of the conference tourney, despite coming in as the No. 1 seed.

ASU softball coach Robert Skinner was beside himself Thursday after losing in the first round of the conference tourney, despite coming in as the No. 1 seed.

HAMPTON — For the past year, Albany State softball coach Robert Skinner saw last season’s collapse in the conference tournament over and over again in his nightmares.

On Thursday afternoon, he saw it again.

Only this time, the flashback was all too real.

In a scene almost identical to last season, the No. 1 seed Lady Rams got upset by No. 4 Fort Valley State, 8-7, in their first game of the conference tournament, dropping into the losers’ bracket and being handed an improbable task of fighting back for a conference title.

The Lady Rams hit five home runs in the second and third innings to take an early 6-1 lead, but Fort Valley State, the same team that knocked ASU into the loser’s bracket last season, scored six runs in the top of the fifth to take a 7-6 lead.

“It happened so quickly that I’m sure (last season) was going through their minds, especially the ones that played last year,” Skinner said of his players. “I’m sure that once they cut it to 6-3, they were thinking, ‘Here we go again.’ ”

ASU got solo homers from Albany native Domonique Bryant, Ambrionna Atkism, Chelsea Hicks and Kandis Banks and a two-run shot from former Bainbridge star Vanessa Jones, but Lady Rams ace Alexa Lopez gave up six runs in the fifth inning without recording an out — a performance that had Skinner scratching his head.

“Everything they hit was right back up the middle, so she had to be missing her spots and throwing it straight down the middle of the plate,” Skinner said. “It’s surprising because she hasn’t been doing that. She had been hitting her spots all week.”

The Lady Rams resume play at 9 a.m. today against Benedict but will need to win seven straight games — including three today — to emerge as champs Sunday.