Georgia Southern’s baseball team hammered Western Carolina, 16-4, on Saturday, a day after a 4-0 loss to the Catamounts prompted GSU head coach Rodney Hennon to question his players’ competitiveness.
GSU responded to Hennon’s challenge early and often, jumping out to a two-run lead in the second inning, adding three runs in the fourth and erupting for 10 runs in the fifth to the delight of a J.I. Clements Stadium crowd of 1,062. The Eagles’ 10-run fifth inning was a run shy of tying the season-high 17 that GSU produced in a 17-11 victory over Jacksonville (Fla.) University on March 20.
With the victory, GSU (27-24 overall, 13-13 Southern Conference) clinched a berth in the SoCon Tournament on May 23 in Greenville, S.C.
"After a tough night last night, I was proud of the way we responded," said Hennon, whose Eagles evened the three-game series and will play their final home game of the season at 1:30 p.m. today.
The start of Saturday’s game was delayed 15 minutes as paramedics attended to the great uncle of Western Carolina pitcher Morgan McKinney (6-3), who started on the mound and registered the loss. The 6-foot-3, 190-pound junior left-hander struck out three, walked three and allowed eight runs (four earned) on nine hits in four innings. McKinney, who threw 93 pitches, was among six pitchers the Catamounts used in the game.
Western Carolina (30-19, 14-12) is staying at a hotel an hour away in Pooler because rooms in Statesboro are booked for this weekend’s graduation ceremonies.
GSU starter Justin Hess (4-3) earned the win. The 6-foot-2, 205-pound junior right-hander struck out four, walked two and allowed one earned run on eight hits in seven innings. He threw 118 pitches.
"Justin did a great job for us on the mound," Hennon said. "He got in some trouble there right away in the first and I thought he did an outstanding job pitching out of that jam. I thought he did a great job pitching with the lead, continuing to go out and throw strikes and work ahead."
The Eagles out-hit the Catamounts, 18-11, in the 3-hour, 22-minute game but GSU senior shortstop Eric Phillips finished 0-for-4. Phillips has 323 career hits and is three shy of tying Scott Henley’s school-record 326, which Henley produced from 1998-2001.
GSU took a 1-0 lead in the second inning on designated hitter Garren Palmer’s home run to left-center. The Eagles made it 2-0 on Hunter Thomas’ RBI groundout, which drove in T.D. Davis.
"I thought Garren really sparked us today," Hennon said. "He had good at-bats all day long and didn’t try to do too much; got him some good counts and made some positive things happen."
Palmer finished 3-for-3 with two runs batted in. He was a triple shy of hitting for the cycle. The home run was the third of his career.
"I was just trying to keep it simple and worry more about the process today than the outcome, and it just worked out well," Palmer said.
GSU went up 3-0 in the fourth inning when Phillips grounded to Western Carolina shortstop Aaron Attaway, who bobbled the ball. Attaway’s fielding error allowed GSU’s Thomas to score from third base. Chase Griffin followed with a single to bring in Scooter Williams and Michael Burruss for a 5-0 lead. Western Carolina committed four errors in the game.
In the fifth inning, GSU made it 7-0 on Brent Pugh’s two-run double, which drove in Palmer and Davis. Thomas’ two-run single plated Avera and Pugh to make it 9-0. Burruss’ single brought in Thomas for a 10-0 lead. Palmer walked with the bases loaded to bring in Williams for an 11-0 lead. Davis walked to bring in Burruss and make it 12-0. Avera walked to bring in Phillips and make it 13-0. Palmer scored on a passed ball to give GSU a 14-0 lead. Thomas singled to bring in Davis for a 15-0 lead.
Western Carolina cut the score to 15-1 in the seventh inning.
GSU made it 16-1 in the seventh when Williams singled to bring in Davis.
The Catamounts cut the score to 16-2 in the eighth inning and 16-4 in the ninth inning.
GSU’s Davis finished 4-for-5 with an RBI. Avera was 3-for-4 with two RBIs. Thomas was 2-for-5 with four RBIs. Griffin was 2-for-5 with two RBIs. Williams was 2-for-5 with an RBI.
GSU’s Burruss and Avera set the tone, defensively, with great fielding that resulted in a pair of put outs.
"We played good defense for the most part of that game. Some big plays there," Hennon said. "Finally got some things going, offensively, and got a little confidence. We’ve got to come ready to play tomorrow."
GSU right-hander Will Middour is slated to start today against Western Carolina right-hander Jeremy Null (4-3, 5.11 ERA).
Noell Barnidge may be reached at (912) 489-9408.