After waiting all winter to see the Georgia Southern baseball team back in action, Eagle fans had to wait through 10 innings to get a result.
Unfortunately for those fans, it wasn’t what they were hoping for. Georgia Southern rallied from a 5-2 deficit, but Middle Tennessee State’s Brad Jarreau knocked in Ryan Kemp with a single to left in the top of the 10th inning and Tyler Holcombe held on in the bottom half to give the Blue Raiders a 6-5 victory.
“It was a tough one,” GS coach Rodney Hennon said. “We had some good at-bats and we had some opportunities. We just didn’t capitalize on them and that hurt us.”
The Eagles (0-1) finished with an awkward box score as they plated their five runs with the assistance of just three hits. But Eagle batters waited out 12 walks and all five runners who crossed the plate initially reached base via walk, hit by pitch or Middle Tennessee error.
The Raiders (1-0) took a 5-3 lead into the sixth inning and sent Blake Stansberry to the mound in relief. Stansberry promptly walked three of the four batters he faced and was relieved by Devin Conn. Eagle power threat Ryan Cleveland coaxed another walk to force in C.J. Ballard and Tyler Martin knocked in Mitchell Golden with an RBI fielder’s choice to tie the game.
The Eagles had a great chance to end the game in the bottom of the ninth before bad luck struck.
Cleveland led off with another walk and advanced to second when Conn hit Martin with a pitch. Jordan Wren battled to foul off a pair of two-strike pitches and managed to line a ball towards left center, but MTSU shortstop Riley Delgado, who flipped to second, doubling off Cleveland after he had started towards third in anticipation of scoring the winning run on a base hit.
“Again, we just didn’t make the most of our chances,” Hennon said. “We had some hard hit balls that turned into outs. We did a lot of little things well. The big hits just weren’t there.”
While one or two timely hits could have easily swung the game in the Eagles’ favor, Hennon instead looked to his defense when determining the key point in the game.
In the top of the fifth inning, Zach Strickland took over for Eagle starter Brian Eichhorn. Strickland retired the first two batters he faced and got a ground ball out of Austin Dennis, but GS shortstop misplayed the ball to allow Dennis to reach. Dennis stole second while Blake Bennefield walked. Drew Huff singled home Dennis before Aaron Auker delivered the game’s biggest blow with a two-run double to right center.
“Zach deserved a little better tonight,” Hennon said. “In college baseball, the big inning will kill you. That’s what they got tonight. We had two outs and no one on. We’ve got to keep battling and finish out those innings.”
Eichhorn allowed four hits and struck out three, allowing one earned run in his opening night start. Landon Hughes was overpowering out of the bullpen and struck out five in his three innings, but was saddled with the loss.
Jake Wyrick started for MTSU and surrendered just one hit while walking four and striking out six in his three innings. Holcombe was credited with the win for his lone inning of work.
The Eagles and Raiders will be back at it today at 3 p.m. Georgia Southern will get a look at a new face in the rotation as Wofford transfer Jacob Condra-Bogan is scheduled to get the start.