Georgia Southern jumped out to an early lead against Georgia Friday night, but the bats quickly cooled off as the Bulldogs controlled the later portion of the game and notched a 4-3 win at J.I. Clements Stadium.
The Eagles (2-3) scored a pair of runs in the second inning, but were then kept at bay until the eighth. Georgia Southern put the potential tying run on second base with one out in the ninth, only to see UGA reliever Tucker Bradley strike out Ryan Cleveland and C.J. Ballard to clinch the win for the Bulldogs.
“We’ve had some good at-bats and put ourselves in good situations,” GS coach Rodney Hennon said. “But we need to get the hits at the end.”
Trailing 4-3 in the final frame, Eagle centerfielder Logan Baldwin coaxed a leadoff walk out of UGA reliever Christian Ryder. Evan McDonald laid down a sacrifice bunt to put Baldwin in scoring position and chase Ryder from the game, but Bradley struck out Cleveland after a seven-pitch at bat and caught Ballard looking to end the game.
“Cleveland can’t do it every time,” Hennon said. “He’s been great, but we need everyone to step up. I’m not saying anything here that I didn’t say (in the team’s postgame meeting in left field). Guys need to step up late in games.”
Things started out on a brighter note for Georgia Southern.
Eagle left fielder Tyler Martin drew a walk off of UGA starter Kevin Smith to begin the bottom of the second inning. Martin advanced to second on a wild pitch and scored when Georgia centerfielder misplayed a C.J. Brazil single. Brazil pushed the GS lead to 2-0 when he advanced to second on an infield single by Cal Baker and came in to score on a hit by Mitchell Golden.
Unfortunately for Georgia Southern, the Bulldogs were poised to answer immediately.
In the top of the third, Will Campbell led off with a home run to left center off of GS starter Evan Challenger. Michael Curry followed with a single and the big blow occurred when Martin dropped a Keegan McGovern fly ball to left that allowed McGovern and Curry to reach second and third, respectively.
Both crossed the plate on an Aaron Schunk single up the middle. Challenger - who was making his 2017 debut - was saddled with the loss. The senior left-hander allowed eight hits in his three innings of work, striking out a pair, but facing 19 UGA batters as he needed 68 pitches to make it through the first third of the game.
“This is typical of what you see on Friday nights in college baseball,” Hennon said. “There was good pitching on both ends. It comes down to a couple of plays we don’t make in the outfield and some big pitches they made late in the game.”
Adam Kelly took over for Challenger in the fourth and tossed a pair of scoreless innings. Jacob Condra-Bogan pitched effectively through the eighth, but allowed the Bulldogs to score what became the winning run in his final frame of work.
Bogan struck out four and allowed just two hits in his stint, but the first hit allowed was a single to Adam Sasser with two outs and none on in the eighth. Will Proctor followed up with a double to the wall in left center to knock in Sasser.
Brazil drew the Eagles within a run with a sacrifice fly to left in the bottom of the inning. Brazil could have done more damage if not for McGovern’s diving catch on his pop fly turning a potential two-run hit into the relatively harmless run-scoring play that brought the Bulldogs an out closer to victory.
Georgia Southern will look to even up the series this afternoon as the teams will meet again for a scheduled 3 p.m. first pitch.