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Lights Out: GSUs Beck sets career highs for strikeouts, pitches
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Georgia Southern pitcher Chris Beck throws a strike in the fourth inning against Charleston at J.I. Clements Stadium on Friday. - photo by SCOTT BRYANT/staff

   Georgia Southern pitcher Chris Beck on Friday night showed why he entered this season projected by Baseball America to be the seventh player selected in Major League Baseball’s First-Year Player Draft in June.
    Beck pitched six innings, striking out 16 batters and throwing 126 pitches, both career highs, to lead GSU to a 4-2 victory over College of Charleston in the opener of a Southern Conference three-game series.
    A J.I. Clements Stadium crowd of 1,407 watched as the consensus All-American right-hander struck out three more batters than his previous career high, which he set against College of Charleston in the SoCon Tournament last season.
    Beck, a 6-foot-3, 235-pound junior from Jefferson, was pulled after six innings to prevent an arm injury. He was two strikeouts shy of tying GSU’s single-game record set by Ray Mims in 1959.
    Beck’s 126 pitches were one more than his previous career high, which he also threw against College of Charleston in the SoCon Tournament last season. His previous high for pitches thrown this season was 123, set March 9 in the Eagles’ 4-3 loss at Elon.
    “I was just trying to make quick innings and keep our defense off the field,” said Beck, who faced 27 batters and struck out 10 of the first 14 he faced. “It wasn’t an easy 16 strikeouts. They fouled off pitches and you’ve got to give credit to them. They swung the bat really well, so it’s a blessing to say the least.”
    A consensus preseason All-American, Beck walked two and allowed two runs, both of them earned, on seven hits. The only blemish was a solo home run to deep center field that he allowed to Brandon Murray, trimming College of Charleston’s deficit to 3-2 in the fifth inning.
    “Chris is a competitor. Always has been,” GSU head coach Rodney Hennon said. “I think he knew this was a big game for our team, and he needed to step up for us. He really went out and emptied the tank, and just gave us a tremendous
effort.”
    In GSU’s 5-3 victory over Georgia Tech on Wednesday in Atlanta, Beck pitched in the ninth inning. He threw 11 pitches and struck out two batters to earn the first save of his career.
    GSU (13-14 overall, 4-6 SoCon) and College of Charleston (20-7, 10-3), which is in first place in the SoCon, will play at 2:30 p.m. today.
    “Slider and change-up,” Beck said of the pitches that best worked for him. “Everybody in college can hit a fastball. That’s proven. Division I baseball, everybody hits it, so off-speed was make or break tonight. The change-up, especially. A lot of lefties in their lineup, and if you make a mistake they can hit it out of the ballpark, so I had to be real aware of that.”
    In the first inning, the Cougars’ Bradley Goodson tripled down the right field line. Murray walked. Marty Gantt struck out looking. Daniel Aldrich fouled out to third. Murray stole second, but Dre Watts struck out swinging.
    “I thought the key to the game was the first inning,” Hennon said. “After the triple and a walk, first and third, nobody out, against the meat of that order, some very good hitters, he really made some quality pitches to get out of that jam. And then settled in. They made him work. That’s one thing about it, when you’re striking that many guys out that pitch count gets up there. And it did.”
    In the bottom of the first inning, GSU’s Eric Phillips doubled to the wall in center field to drive in Scooter Williams for a 1-0 lead. Tyler Avera singled to bring in Michael Burruss, making it 2-0. Hunter Thomas singled to drive in Phillips for a 3-0 lead.
    “It was huge,” Beck said of the run support. “You get the bases loaded and then Eric comes up and hits a double.”
    Phillips finished 3-for-3 with an RBI. Burruss was 2-for-4.
    College of Charleston cut the score to 3-1 on Gunnar Heidt’s single in the fourth inning. Murray’s homer cut it to 3-2. GSU tacked on a run in the seventh to make it 4-2.
    College of Charleston left-handed starter Josh Renfro struck out seven, walked one and allowed three runs (all earned) on seven hits in six innings.
    GSU’s Drew Johnson and Jarret Leverett pitched the seventh and eighth innings, respectively. Kyle Rowe came on in the ninth and struck out three of the four batters he faced to earn his first save.
    “Our bullpen kind of fed off the job Chris did,” Hennon said. “Drew Johnson came in and made good pitches, and Jarret Leverett and Kyle Rowe, so that was good to see.”
    Today, GSU right-hander Justin Hess (1-0, 7.59 ERA) is scheduled to start against College of Charleston right-hander Christian Powell (4-1, 1.34 ERA). GSU right-hander Will Middour (0-2, 4.42 ERA) is slated to start at 1:30 p.m. Sunday against Cougars right-hander Matt Pegler (5-0, 1.69 ERA).

    Noell Barnidge can be reached at (912) 489-9408.