The Georgia Bulldogs were certainly glad they had Jared Walsh when their season opened at J.I. Clements on Friday evening against Georgia Southern.
Walsh blasted a solo home run to spark a five-run inning in the second, and he took the mound in the bottom of the ninth to strike out three Eagles as GSU fell, 6-5 to the visiting Bulldogs.
Trailing 6-3 in the bottom of the fifth, the Eagles cut in when Hunter Thomas singled up the middle with two outs to drive in Ben Morgan and T.D. Davis, who each got on with a base hit.
Georgia Southern (0-1) pitcher Justin Hess started the ballgame. He left the game after three innings of work, allowing six runs, five of them earned. He struck out four and walked three.
Relief pitcher Josh Stevenson entered in the fourth inning and was masterful, pitching 4.1 innings, allowing no runs on five hits and mowing down a career-high eight batters. From the end of the fourth inning to the start of the sixth, Stevenson struck out six-straight Bulldogs.
“I was ready to go,” Stevenson said. “I took good bullpen earlier in the week. (Pitching coach B.J.) Green did a good job calling pitches, and it worked out.”
Stevenson, Chris Meyers and closer Kyle Rowe combined for six scoreless innings of relief.
The Eagles stranded 10 runners in the game, including one in the ninth and three in the eight and fourth innings.
“The biggest thing that hurt us tonight was that we had a lot of opportunities to score, and I think at times we were trying to do too much,” GSU coach Rodney Hennon said. “We’ve just got to do a better job relaxing, staying within ourselves and executing with men in scoring position.”
Georgia (1-0) threatened early, loading the bases with two outs after leadoff hitter Nelson Ward reached on an infield single and was picked off by Hess.
Kyle Farmer reached on an error and Hess walked the next two Georgia batters, but got a groundout from Brett DeLoach to end the inning and strand all three UGA runners.
The Eagles struck in the bottom of the first, pushing three runs across for an early lead.
Scooter Williams led off the GSU first with a walk, which was followed by a BEN Morgan single. The runners advanced on a wild pitch by UGA starter Sean McLaughlin, and Chase Griffin roped a single to left to drive in two.
Griffin scored on an RBI single by designated hitter Garren Palmer.
Williams left the game in the bottom of the fourth. After grounding into a double play, Williams collapsed onto the baseline with what appeared to be a cramped calf muscle.
Georgia’s starter, Sean McLaughlin, worked four innings in his UGA debut. He struck out four, walked one and allowed three runs — all in the first inning — on five GSU hits.
The Bulldogs stormed back in the second by batting around and putting a five spot on Hess that included five-straight hits. The biggest knocks of the inning were a solo home run by Walsh and an RBI triple by leadoff hitter Nelson Ward.
The Bulldogs tacked on another run in the third, this time unearned, when Ward came around to score on a throwing error after reaching on a single and swiping second.
“It could have gone either way,” Hennon said. “We’ve just got to pick ourselves up and focus on (Saturday).”
The second of the three-game series will be played today at 2:30 p.m.
The Eagles will start Sam Howard, who will go against UGA’s Patrick Boling.
NOTES: Announced attendance was 3,013, the largest attendance for a GSU season opener in history. It was the second largest all time, behind a Feb. 22, 2012 game against Georgia Tech. … Stevenson’s eight strikeouts were a career high. His previous high was three, against Furman in 2012. His 4.1 innings pitched were also a career high. … The Eagles fell to 15-15-1 all-time against UGA in J.I. Clements Stadium. … McLaughlin became the first true freshman in Georgia history to start on opening night for the Bulldogs.
Matt Yogus may be reached at (912) 489-9408.