Western Carolina scored three runs in the final two innings, but it was way too little, way too late.
Georgia Southern hit four home runs on their way to an 11-4 win Friday in game one of a three-game series against the Catamounts.
Jake Brown got the win, going 7.1 innings, allowing four earned runs and striking out six to improve to 6-4 on the season.
“We’re definitely progressing as the season goes on,” said Brown. “We’ve got to finish out strong, and we’re going to need pitching, we’re going to need the bullpen, and guys off the bench are going to need to hit the ball if we’re going to win.”
The Catamounts (23-13-1, 6-9-1 Southern Conference) took an early lead on a first-inning, solo blast by third baseman Tyler Kirkpatrick, but the lead was short lived.
Georgia Southern (22-17, 13-6) answered immediately, as WCU starter Taylor Sandefur (7.1 IP, 6 H, 7 ER, 2 K, 6 BB) walked three-straight GSU batters to load the bases in the bottom of the first. A.J. Wirnsberger grounded a two-run single up the middle to give the Eagles a two-run advantage, and things were just getting started.
Catcher Randy J. Williams tacked on another one with his second homer of the season – a solo shot in the second – which gave GSU a 3-1 edge.
Western attempted to tie it the top of the fifth, when Dylan de Graaf got on with a one-out double. Matt Johns laced one just over the fence in left-center for a would-be game-tying homer, but Shawn Payne leapt up the wall and reached over to make the catch and take two runs away.
“It was crazy, because I had just started working on that last week, looking back and feeling for the fence,” said Payne, who was a shortstop in junior college. “(Left fielder) Arthur Owens was telling me, ‘I got room, I got room I got room,’ and I just reached and went as hard as I could. If it had been a homer, it would have been a tie game.”
Payne joined the offensive party in the sixth, when he hit a two-run homer to right field to drive in Wirnsberger for a 5-1 Eagle lead and his first career long ball.
“I hit 11 last year (in junior college), and my first one’s two thirds through the season,” Payne said. “It’s a grind. I’ve got to keep working hard and finish up strong.”
Two more two-run homers were added to the scoreboard in the six-run seventh in which Georgia Southern batted around. Kyle Blackburn hit his 10th blast of the season to drive in Owens, and three batters later, freshman Victor Roache hit his third of the season to drive in Eric Phillips. Two more crossed the plate as GSU batted around when Williams lined a two-run double to left center that put the Eagles up 11-1.
Western added three more in the eighth, but it was of no avail as Charles Matthews pitched the final 2.2 innings.
Game two takes place today at 2:30 p.m.
Matt Murray, who pitched two limited appearances last Saturday against Samford and Tuesday against Georgia Tech, will get the start.
Matt Yogus can be reached at (912) 489-9408.