Kennesaw State’s pitching staff spent most of the night trying in vain to find the strike zone and Georgia Southern cashed in at some opportune times as the Eagles notched an 8-4 victory over their in-state rivals Tuesday at J.I. Clements Stadium.
Seven Owl pitchers combined to walk six Eagle batters, hit four more, and uncork five wild pitches. And while all of Georgia Southern’s runs were earned on the night, the shaky pitching did plenty to help.
“We’re glad to have the win,” GS coach Rodney Hennon said. “We got a little bit of help. We got a couple of big hits when we needed it, but I would have liked to see more energy. We took advantage of some mistakes, but we need to bring a lot more energy into the weekend.”
The normal chess game of winning a midweek game while keeping pitchers fresh for the weekend was complicated by the fact that - due to Easter - the Eagles’ upcoming Sun Belt series against Appalachian State will begin on Thursday instead of the normal Friday night first pitch.
The Eagles (21-12, 7-5 Sun Belt) combated that by utilizing nine pitchers to get the win over Kennesaw State (15-18). Zach Cowart tossed a clean first inning and the only real trouble came when Zach Strickland surrendered a two-run double to David Chabut to put the Owls up 2-1. Anthony Paesano finished the second inning for GS and also worked a perfect third, ultimately getting credit as the winning pitcher.
Georgia Southern pulled ahead in the bottom of the second with plenty of help from KSU pitching. Owl starter Nathan Dupree hit both Logan Baldwin and Steven Curry - with a walk to Evan McDonald sandwiched in between - before being pulled from the game. Mitchell Golden and Jordan Wren each knocked in runs with sacrifice flies off and Tyler Martin made it a 4-2 GS advantage with a two-out RBI single off of KSU reliever Jordan Kruger.
Georgia Southern increased its lead to 5-2 in the fourth due to more dubious pitching. Will Bice walked Curry on five pitches to begin the frame and Curry advance to second on a botched pickoff attempt. A wild pitch moved Curry to third and another wild pitch brought the Eagle second baseman home.
Kennesaw State clawed back into the game in the seventh, getting to Evan Challenger, who was making his third consecutive appearance out of the bullpen. Chris Erwin slapped a one-out single before Griffin Helms lofted a Challenger offering far beyond the wall in left field to bring KSU within 4-3.
That score held tight into the bottom of the eighth when the Owls’ pitching staff finally did itself in.
Brock Turner entered from the bullpen to begin the frame and was immediately lifted after issuing walks to McDonald and Curry. Erich Stahl relieved Turner, only to issue a free pass to Golden. That loaded the bases for Wren, who lofted a fly ball down the left field line that managed to stay fair for a three-run double and an 8-4 Eagle lead.
“(Stahl) was having trouble locating his pitches,” Wren said. “With him struggling and with a 3-1 count, I was just sitting on a fastball. I always look to go the other way first, so when he threw me a fastball that I could push out there, I jumped at it.”
Stahl managed to get through the rest of the frame without further damage, but a four-run lead was child’s play for GS closer Landon Hughes as he entered in the ninth inning. Hughes gave up a leadoff single, but coaxed a double-play ball out of Garrett Hodges and froze Austin Upshaw with a slider on the outside corner to seal the win for the Eagles.
Georgia Southern will rest today before welcoming in archrival Appalachian State for a three-game series. Games on Thursday and Friday are scheduled to begin at 6:30 p.m., with a 1 p.m. first pitch set for Saturday