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Eagles avoid sweep

Face Elon as six seed Wednesday

Needing a victory in the regular season finale to help its cause in next week’s Southern Conference Tournament, Georgia Southern held off Western Carolina 5-2 Saturday afternoon. Jeremiah Parker recorded his first career multi-home run game to support the pitching performance of starter Josh Lairsey and closer A.J. Battisto. With the win, Southern (33-26 overall, 13-14 SoCon) moves into sixth place in the final standings. The Eagles will face Elon on Wednesday at 7:30 p.m. in Charleston in the first round of the Southern Conference tournament. Georgia Southern struck first for the second straight game. Kyle Blackburn hit a leadoff single in the second. With one out, Will Southwell executed a hit-and-run to put runners on first and second. A.J. Wirnsberger lined the first pitch from Corey Martin up the middle for a RBI single. Western (40-16, 20-7) hit back-to-back singles to start the second. Lairsey (4-1) was able to field a sacrifice bunt attempt and throw down to Wirnsberger at third base to get the lead runner. A fielder’s choice and groundout by the Catamounts ended the inning. At the start of the third inning, Griffin Benedict hit a single to centerfield. He advanced to second on a groundout and scored when Blackburn lined a two-out RBI double over the head of Barrett Shaft in center. Nick Liles hit a leadoff double in the fourth. Adam Baker was injured on a foul ball and had to leave the game on a 2-2 count. Pinch-hitter Tyler Kirkpatrick lined Lairsey’s first offering for a RBI double. With two outs Shaft hit a single and Blake Murphy walked to load the bases. Steven Strausbaugh lined a shot down the third base line. Wirnsberger made a diving stop and tagged the base for a force out and keep two if not all three runners from scoring. Parker hit his first round tripper with two down in the fifth, a blast to left centerfield. That extended the lead to 3-1. Kenny Smith hit a leadoff double in the fifth and scored on Jonathan Greene’s RBI single, cutting the Eagles’ lead to 3-2. During the seventh, Benedict lined a leadoff double down the left field line, his 10th on the year. Closer Greg Holland entered the game with one out. Parker slammed a 1-0 pitch again to nearly the same spot in the left field gap for his first career multi-home run game, putting the Eagles ahead 5-2. Parker overtook the team home run lead with his 10th homer this season. Lairsey pitched into the seventh inning and recorded two quick outs. But consecutive singles to put runners on first and second chased Lairsey in favor of Battisto. He fielded a come-backer for the final out of the seventh. Battisto worked around a leadoff single in the eighth by striking out the side. In the ninth he turned in a 1-2-3 inning for his league-leading 10th save. “I tried not to get wrapped up in things that I could not control. I tried to go out there and let my defense work for me. You have to give a lot of credit to those guys, they stepped up behind me,” said Lairsey. “As a team hopefully this win will put us in a better situation heading into next week’s SoCon Tournament, maybe giving us a boost of momentum at the right time.” Parker, who had hit a home run in 15 different games during his three-year career, jumped his RBI total to 41 this season. He finished 2-for-5 with a pair of runs scored. “Personally I feel good swinging the bat and helping the team as best I can, especially now during the most important time of the year heading into tournament play. the team win, whether I am playing catcher, first base, right field or in left,” stated Parker. “Last night in our team huddle Justin Klinger said we do not want to see another team celebrate in front of us and we did exactly that. Getting this big win heading into tournament demonstrates we can and have beaten the top teams in the league this year.” Benedict added two hits as did Blackburn. Lairsey won his fourth straight start, improving to 4-1. The senior left-hander, winning for the third straight time on a team’s Senior Day (Georgia Southern, The Citadel and now Western), gave up two runs on 11 hits in 6.2 innings. He walked one and struck out five. Battisto gave up one hit in 2.1 innings, struck out four and did not walk a batter. He moved into sole possession of fifth place among the GS season ‘Top 10’ saves leaders.

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