By CHRIS STANLEY
Sometimes you pitch well and lose, sometimes you pitch horribly and your offense decides to wake up and bail you out.
Baseball is funny like that.
Though funny might not be the word Georgia Southern starter Chase Cohen used to describe Georgia Southern’s 1-0 loss to Arkansas State Saturday night. The Red Wolves spoiled what has been an excellent two-week stretch for Cohen, as the sophomore recorded a career high 11 strikeouts to best his one-week old mark of ten he set last week against Louisiana-Lafayette.
Cohen fanned nearly 46 percent of the batters he faced Saturday night while allowing only three hits, two walks and a hit batter. He’d match Arkansas State starter Bradley Welch’s six scoreless innings — though Welch was more a beneficiary of some ill-placed ground balls by the Eagles as opposed to Cohen’s strikeout-heavy performance.
“It was a well pitched game on both sides,” said head coach Rodney Hennon. “Chase has been good for us lately. We have to continue to pitch like that going into tomorrow.”
For an example of just how irritating the offensive night was for Georgia Southern, twice in the bottom of the fifth and the eighth the Eagles had at least two runners on and failed to drive in a run. In the fifth Southern had the bases loaded courtesy of two walks by Welch to set up slugger Ryan Cleveland for a potential big at bat.
Cleveland took the first pitch, then smacked a hard grounder to first which was caught in the chest of ASU first baseman Jake Brakamus who walked over to the bag for the unassisted third out. Welch would head out to be replaced by Tyler Zuber — who’s 4.12 ERA would leave a baseball layman to believe he would be easy pickings for the Eagle lineup.
However when you zoom in on the sabermetrics, Zuber is no reliever to be trifled with. Through the 19 and two thirds innings he had pitched going into Saturday's appearance, Zuber’s posted a 3.35 FIP, 1.12 WHIP, .248 opponent OBP and has struck out nearly 25 percent of the batters he’s faced. Pitching the final three innings of the game, Zuber backed up his advanced metrics by striking nine of the last 11 Eagles who came to bat — including six in a row to end the game.
“That’s why he’s their closer, he’s got good stuff,” Hennon said. ”I think we’ve got to be more aggressive at the plate because we rolled over a lot of ground balls.”
While Zuber was busy mowing down Eagles, Georgia Southern’s normally rock-solid closer Landon Hughes came in the top of the ninth to try and keep what was then a 0-0 tie held together. Hughes, who normally allows less than one hit and walk combined per inning, allowed two base runners via walk and hit by pitch to set up a two out situation for ASU’s Drew Tipton — who going into the at bat was hitting .217 with runners in scoring position.
Tipton would swing at a 1-0 pitch that would loop over near the right field foul line just behind first base. Cleveland and Steven Curry would give way for a sprinting Jordan Wren, who slid feet first to see the ball fall in and out of his glove to allow Bakamus to score the game’s lone run. Of all the solid hits ASU had, the flukiest one would be the one to do the Eagles in.
“We had chances to take the lead and potentially put the game away and we just didn’t get it done,” Hennon said. “You have to give them credit. We have to pick ourselves up fast and be ready for tomorrow.”
Curry would collect two hits and a walk for Southern on the night, while Mason McWhorter and Evan McDonald would round out the only four base hits GS would notch against the Welsh-Zuber combo.
Georgia Southern (34-17, 16-10) will look to clinch their eighth straight series win in this afternoon’s rubber match against the Red Wolves at 1:00 p.m.