Georgia Southern freshmen Chase Griffin and Casey Kicklighter demonstrated their patience and power at the plate during the Eagles’ 17-11 victory over Jacksonville (Fla.) University on Tuesday night.
Griffin, a catcher from Lee County High School in Leesburg, finished 4-for-5 with five RBIs and two home runs, including a fourth-inning grand slam. He finished a triple shy of hitting for the cycle.
Kicklighter, a designated hitter from Wayne County High School in Jesup, finished 2-for-5, including a two-run homer in the second inning.
GSU (10-11) leads the all-time series, 68-58, dating to the first game in 1963. The Dolphins (10-12), who play in the Atlantic Sun Conference, advanced to the NCAA Gainesville Regional last season before being eliminated by the Miami Hurricanes and finishing with a 37-24 record.
Tuesday night, a crowd of 1,037 at J.I. Clements Stadium watched as GSU starter Justin Hess (1-0) earned the win. He struck out six without a walk, and allowed seven runs (four earned) on seven hits in five innings.
Jacksonville starter Spencer Jack (0-1) recorded the loss. He struck out one, walked one and gave up four runs (all earned) on three hits in 1 1/3 innings. The Dolphins used seven pitchers, while GSU sent four to the mound.
GSU produced an eight-run second inning, the most runs the Eagles have scored in an inning this season. Kicklighter blasted Jack’s first-pitch fastball over the scoreboard in left field to give the Eagles a 2-0 lead.
"That was a no-doubter," Griffin said of Kicklighter’s homer.
Said Kicklighter, "Well, I got in there and it was a guy that hadn’t really pitched a lot. He was throwing a lot of first-pitch fastballs, and I was just trying to get a strike. So I just went up there with the approach that I was going to get a good pitch to hit, up in the zone, and if it comes in then I’m going to swing at it. Luckily, he threw one belt-high fastball right down the middle."
Two batters later, Griffin hit Jack’s breaking ball over the wall in left-center for a 3-0 lead. Jack was relieved by left-hander Corben Madden.
"Starting off (this season), I was a little rough but Coach (Mike Tidick, GSU’s hitting coach) has been working with my swing," Griffin said. "I guess baseball is a game of adjustments, and so I’ve worked on a few little things and it’s working out for me right now."
Griffin said the toughest part about making the transition from high school to the college level has been the mental aspect of the game.
"Whenever you get down, you can’t let it bring you down," Griffin said. "You’ve got to keep going and push through it. I mean, like tonight, whenever you do real good you can’t get a big head. You’ve got to stick with your approach just like Coach (Rodney) Hennon teaches us, and just go with it."
With the bases loaded and one out, GSU senior Eric Phillips hit a two-run double to bring in sophomore Ben Morgan and junior Scooter Williams for a 5-0 lead. GSU junior T.D. Davis followed with a two-run single that drove in junior Michael Burruss and Phillips for a 7-0 lead. Davis took second base.
GSU’s Kicklighter hit the ball to Jacksonville third baseman Colin Monagle, but GSU’s Davis scored on a fielding error by Jacksonville first baseman Adam Brett Walker to put the Eagles up, 8-0.
GSU’s Griffin doubled to lead off the bottom of the third inning, and Jacksonville’s Jeff Tanner relieved Madden. Morgan’s sacrifice bunt advanced Griffin to third base. GSU’s Williams doubled into the gap in right-center to bring in Griffin for a 9-2 lead.
In the fourth inning, GSU loaded the bases with no outs for Griffin. Jacksonville’s Sean Green, a 6-foot-8, 200-pound senior right-hander, relieved Tanner. Griffin hammered Green’s second pitch for a grand slam over the left field wall, giving GSU a 13-2 lead.
Davis’ RBI-single gave GSU a 14-2 lead. Stryker Brown’s RBI-double made it 15-2.
In the fifth inning, Jacksonville tacked on five runs to cut GSU’s lead to 15-7.
The Dolphins added two runs in the seventh inning, cutting the score to 15-9.
GSU freshman Hunter Thomas hit a two-run double to give the Eagles a 17-9 lead in the bottom of the seventh inning. It was his first base hit as an Eagle.
Jacksonville’s Dan Gulbransen hit a two-run homer off GSU’s Jared Cheek to cut the Eagles’ lead to 17-11 in the eighth inning.
GSU will play a three-game Southern Conference series against Furman University beginning at 6 p.m. Friday in Greenville, S.C.
Noell Barnidge can be reached at (912) 489-9408.