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GSU stumbles in first round
Second inning grand slam propels Elon to 14-7 win
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Jeremy Beckham bats in the first inning of Georgia Southern's Southern Conference Tournament opening round game against sixth-seeded Elon Wednesday. GSU lost 14-7. - photo by Southern Conference

    CHARLESTON, S.C. – When it comes to the Southern Conference baseball tournament, pitching is arguably the most important component to success.

    So, needless to say, using five pitchers and pulling its starter after 1 2/3 innings wasn’t what Georgia Southern wanted in the first round Wednesday. While the Eagles struggled to find consistency on the mound, Elon banged out 16 hits and sent GSU to the loser’s bracket of the double elimination tournament with a 14-7 win at Riley Park.

    “We just didn’t pitch very well,” Eagle coach Rodney Hennon said. “I think there were two of eight innings where we got a leadoff man out. It’s hard to win doing that. We worked behind the count, and to Elon’s credit, they took advantage of it.”

    Sixth-seeded Georgia Southern will face No. 2 seed Western Carolina in an elimination game today at 1 p.m. Hennon said he’d decide late Wednesday who will take the mound today. It'll likely be either freshman right hander Brian Wilkerson or senior lefty Josh Lairsey.

    The Phoenix took control Wednesday with a six-run second, highlighted by left fielder Pat Irvine’s two-out grand slam to right, which put the Phoenix on top 7-3. It was the first grand slam allowed by Georgia Southern this year. Elon entered the inning down 3-1 and tied the game at 3-3 on Jordy Snyder’s RBI sacrifice fly and Chase Austin’s run-scoring double.

    Georgia Southern starter Aaron Eubanks (3-5) was chased in the fateful inning after surrendering seven runs on seven hits and walking two. Drew Murray relieved Eubanks and allowed three runs on four hits in 2 2/3 innings. He walked three and stuck out one.

    Eagle first baseman Jeremiah Parker was the bright spot for Georgia Southern offensively, going 3-for-5 and slamming two home runs for his second straight multi-home run game. Parker, who leads the team with 12 home runs, cut the deficit to 10-4 in the sixth when he sent the first pitch of the inning over the centerfield fence, and his second bomb was a three-run shot in the ninth.

    Shortstop Brian Pierce also recorded three hits for the Eagles (33-27).

    Trailing 1-0, Georgia Southern took a 3-1 lead with two outs in the second. Chris Shehan started the rally with a solo shot to left center, and A.J. Wirnsberger followed with a RBI double, scoring Griffin Benedict, who reached on a walk. Brian Pierce made it 3-1 one batter later with a run-scoring single.

    “When you do that, you’ve got to go out and pitch and hold the lead, and unfortunately we weren’t able to do it today,” Hennon said.

    Elon added three runs in the fifth and three more in the seventh to cushion its lead to 10.

    “This team has fought back all year long – that’s one thing about it,” Hennon said. “They’ve continued to fight. This obviously wasn’t the way we wanted to start things this week, but that’s the position we are in now. We’ve got to be able to put this game behind us and get prepared for whoever we play (today). If you get that first win under your belt, anything can happen.”

Notes: GSU senior reliever A.J. Battisto was named to the All-SoCon second team…No. 9 seed Wofford’s 19-6 win over top-seeded College of Charleston Wednesday was the largest margin of defeat for a No. 1 seed in SoCon tournament history. Alex Pellegrino can be reached at (912) 489-9413.