On a perfect night for baseball, both Georgia Southern and Savannah State made sure to bring their bats to the ballpark.
The Tigers took a pair of early leads, but the Eagles exploded for seven runs in the bottom of the fourth and held off their local rivals for an 11-7 victory Tuesday night at J.I. Clements Stadium.
“The hitters kind of picked us up tonight, and that’s good to see,” GS coach Rodney Hennon said. “There have certainly been times where our pitching has had to carry us when we weren’t hitting as well. This was one of those nights where you needed a few more hits and we responded.”
Georgia Southern (18-11) is currently last in the Sun Belt in home runs, but used the long ball to take down the Tigers (9-21). Trailing 2-0 in the second, Logan Baldwin recorded the first of his three hits on the evening and scored on a single by Evan McDonald, who also racked up three hits. McDonald was caught stealing, but the Eagles tied it up when Jacob Greene rode a Paul Sheffield offering over the wall in left for his second home run of the season.
The Eagles blew the game open in the fourth inning when Tyler Martin launched the first pitch he saw from Tiger reliever Alex Wright just to the right of the video board in left center for a grand slam. Martin’s third round-tripper of the season made it 9-4. And while Martin’s home run was the exclamation point on the inning, some of the biggest plays of the game preceded it.
Entering the frame facing a 4-2 deficit, the Eagles rallied immediately when Baldwin was hit by a Shawn Sauceville pitch. Baldwin advanced to second on a wild pitch and - following an infield hit by McDonald - came in to score when Greene hit into a fielder’s choice. Wright came in to relieve Sauceville and put Mitchell Golden in an 0-2 count, but the Eagles’ freshman third baseman fouled off several pitches and worked a deep count before lacing a single to left center that plated a pair of runs and put Georgia Southern on top for good.
“That’s doing the little things right,” Hennon said. “That was a huge at bat for us. It was nice to get a big inning and get some home runs, but at bats like the one Mitchell had are just as important.”
With the offense spotting the Eagles a lead, the pitching staff utilized just about everyone to go the rest of the way.
Adam Kelly started the game, allowing an RBI triple and single before being lifted with one out in the second inning. Anthony Paesano got the Eagles out of the second inning and pitched a perfect third frame, striking out two and retiring all five of the batters he faced.
Lawson Humphries was touched up for a pair of runs in two-thirds of an inning of work, giving way to Zach Cowart who surrendered just an unearned run while dancing around three hits and a walk to get the Eagles through the fifth.
Ryan Frederick had one of the best outings of the 14 combined pitchers to see action on Tuesday. The senior righty blazed through perfect innings in the sixth and seventh, striking out three along the way.
“I thought a lot of our guys did well out of the pen,” Hennon said. “Ryan and Zach looked really good out there and (Connor Simmons) came up big for us in a tough spot.”
Zach Strickland entered in the eighth and immediately found trouble. Jorge Lopez recorded a leadoff double and came around to score when Strickland fired wide of first base on an attempted sacrifice bunt by Mason Callaway. Bernard Barnes walked and Strickland was lifted for Connor Simmons.
Simmons did his job perfectly, coaxing a 1-6-3 double play ball out of Jacob Lightle and striking out Hector Benitez to keep the Eagle lead at 9-6.
Georgia Southern regained its hefty cushion in the bottom of the eighth when a bunt single by McDonald and a single to center by Greene knocked in a run each. Hunter Phillips closed the door for the Eagles in the ninth, striking out Kyle Gerdts to end the game.
The Eagles now brace for a road trip and an important Sun Belt series. Georgia Southern travels to Troy — which trails the third-place Eagles by a game in the standings — for a three-game set scheduled to begin Friday night.