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GSU rallies to win opener
021712 GSU BASEBALL 02
Georgia Southern pitcher Chris Beck, top, strikes out UT Martin's Grant Glasser in the fifth inning at J.I. Clements Stadium on Friday night. The Eagles beat the Skyhawks, 7-5. - photo by SCOTT BRYANT/staff


    The atmosphere during Georgia Southern’s baseball season opener Friday night was a little tense until the bottom of the fifth inning, when the Eagles rallied and then held on for a 7-5 victory over the University of Tennessee at Martin.
    “It’s just opening night jitters,” GSU senior third baseman Eric Phillips said. “We came out, we knew we were going to have to play good baseball because they’re a quality team. I wouldn’t say we got tight, but we were kind of getting a little nervous. And then we pulled through and the flood gates just opened, and we started playing Georgia Southern baseball.”
    A J.I. Clements Stadium crowd of 2,763 (fourth-largest all-time) watched as GSU (1-0) scored three runs in the fifth inning and went on to win the first game of a three-game series against the Skyhawks (0-1) of the Ohio Valley Conference.
    The teams will play at 1:30 p.m. today and Sunday. GSU head coach Rodney Hennon said senior right-hander Josh Adams will start today, and junior-college transfer Kyle Rowe, a right-hander, will start Sunday.
    GSU consensus preseason All-American Chris Beck, a 6-foot-3, 235-pound junior right-handed pitcher from Jefferson, started on the mound Friday night.
    Beck (1-0) struck out eight, walked one and allowed one earned run on three hits in six innings to earn the win. He threw 79 pitches and consistently reached 92 mph.
    Beck’s first pitch this season was a called strike on the outside corner of the plate to Grant Glasser, who ended up striking out.
    But two batters later, UT Martin’s Jordan Owen homered off Beck to give the Skyhawks a 1-0 lead in the top of the first inning.
    “It’s definitely something to build off of,” said Beck, who last season led GSU in wins (nine), starts (19), innings (103) and strikeouts (109). “My first-pitch strikes were a little lower than what I wanted. They were right at 60 percent. I’d like to be at 70. But it was a real good outing that you can build on and really just a good team win for us.
    “I left a slider up and just ran it into (Owen’s) bat. He put a good swing on it. But that’s the game of baseball. I settled down after that and I felt like I threw the ball well. And the defense played well behind me, so that’s all you can ask for.”
    UT Martin starter Alec Mills (0-1), a 6-foot-4, 169-pound junior right-hander from Clarksville, Tenn., struck out four, walked four and allowed three earned runs on three hits in 4 2/3 innings to earn the loss.
    In the bottom of the fifth inning, GSU’s Michael Burruss singled off Mills with two outs to bring in Scooter Williams from second base and tie the game at 1. Burruss finished 2-for-5 with an RBI.
    GSU consensus preseason All-American Victor Roache walked to load the bases. UT Martin right-hander Willie Frederick relieved Mills and faced GSU’s Eric Phillips, who singled to bring in Stryker Brown and Burruss to give the Eagles a 3-1 lead.
    “I just tried to put something in play and get a good pitch up to handle” said Phillips, who finished 2-for-4 with three RBIs. “(Frederick) threw me a hanging little slider there and I got a good pitch, hit it to the hole and Burruss was able to score for me.”
    In the bottom of the sixth inning, GSU freshman Tyler Avera, from Appling County High School in Baxley, singled to drive in junior T.D. Davis, a transfer from Georgia Perimeter, and give the Eagles a 4-1 lead.
    GSU has 16 newcomers. Three of them started Friday night: Avera at second base, Davis at first base, and freshman Chase Griffin, from Lee County High School in Leesburg, at catcher.
    In the bottom of the seventh inning, GSU’s Phillips doubled to bring in Roache from second base for a 5-1 lead. Ben Morgan singled to drive in Phillips and Griffin, giving the Eagles a 7-1 lead. Morgan finished 1-for-3 with two RBIs.
    UT Martin made it 7-2 on a throwing error by GSU’s Phillips in the eighth inning. The Skyhawks tacked on two more runs to cut GSU’s lead to 7-4.
    In the top of the ninth inning, UT Martin added a run to cut the score to 7-5.
    Roache, a 6-foot-1, 235-pound junior outfielder from Ypsilanti, Mich., finished 1-for-4. He led the NCAA with 30 home runs last season, and hit .326 with 84 RBIs in 230 at-bats.
    GSU finished last season with a 36-26 record, winning the Southern Conference Tournament championship for the second time in three years.
   
    Noell Barnidge can be reached at (912) 489-9408.