CHARLESTON, S.C. – In the span of a few short seconds Georgia Southern’s baseball season went from hopeful to over.
Trailing UNC Greensboro 8-6 in the top of the ninth in Friday morning’s Southern Conference tournament elimination game at Riley Park, the Eagles were sitting pretty with the bases loaded, no outs and senior pinch hitter Justin Klinger at the plate.
But the GSU rally came to an abrupt halt as Klinger lined out to Spartan second baseman Tim Carrier, who stepped on second for the second out then threw A.J. Wirnsberger out at first for the final out the game and GSU’s season. It was the first triple play in UNCG history.
The play stood despite vehement protests from Eagle coach Rodney Hennon, who insisted Spartan first baseman Ricky Orton wasn’t on the bag when he caught the ball.
“The ball beat our runner back, but the kid was clearly not on the base,” Hennon said. “It’s unfortunate the game had to end that way. It was a well-played game. Tip your hat to Greensboro. Their kids played hard. Our kids played hard.
“But I really feel like right now we do not hold our umpires accountable. I would like to know what the process is in this league of evaluation (of its umpires). I don’t ever see anyone in the stands evaluating these guys. It’s unfortunate there’s no accountability.”
Sixth-seeded Georgia Southern ended its rollercoaster season with a 34-28 overall record. The Eagles were 1-2 in the tournament with a 14-7 loss to No. 3 seed Elon Wednesday, a 6-5 victory over second-seeded Western Carolina Thursday and Friday’s 8-6 loss to the No. 5 seed Greensboro.
“I’m proud of the way our kids played,” Hennon said. “We had some ups and downs at times, but I really felt like this team came together down the stretch and played as hard as they could play. I couldn’t be more proud of their effort. You always hate to see it end. We’ll start working for next year now.”
Georgia Southern held the lead Wednesday until the bottom of the fifth when UNCG right fielder Sean Snell slammed his second home run of the day, a two-out, three-run shot to right-center off reliever David Cogswell to put the Spartans on top 6-5.
The Eagles tied the game at 6-6 in the sixth when Kyle Blackburn’s sacrifice fly scored Matt Miller, who was on board with a one-out single. The Spartans regained the lead for good in the eighth, scoring a pair of runs with two outs on Guy Welsh’s RBI triple to the right-field corner and Ricky Orton’s run-scoring single to center.
Miller led GSU’s offense with a season-high four hits, including his second home run in as many days, while Will Southwell added three hits and Chris Shehan and Jeremiah Parker had two apiece. Griffin Benedict tied a school record with four walks.
Kyle Kamppi (4-3) suffered the loss, allowing two unearned runs on four hits in two innings of relief. Starter Brian Wilkerson surrendered five runs and seven hits in 4 2/3 innings, and Cogswell was charged with one run in 1 1/3 innings of work. Reliever Brandon Harvey (1-0) picked up his first career win, tossing six innings out of the bullpen.
The Eagles started strong as Mike Economos sent a 2-2 pitch over the right-field fence to put GSU up 2-0 with no outs in the first. Economos’ 10th bomb of the year scored Miller, who led off with a single. GSU added a run in the second when Shehan’s single plated Southwell and went up 4-0 on Miller’s leadoff solo homer to right in the third.
Georgia Southern had plenty of opportunities but stranded 12 runners on the day, leaving the bases loaded in the third, sixth and ninth.
Alex Pellegrino can be reached at (912) 489-9413.