Georgia Southern’s pitching continued to deal, but the Eagle bats went quiet again as the Georgia Bulldogs claimed a 3-1 series-opening victory Friday night at J.I. Clements Stadium.
Eagle starter Seth Shuman struck out a career-high 11 batters in seven innings, but took a loss for the third time in as many Friday nights as two UGA (7-1) runs plated in the third inning held up.
Bulldog starter Emerson Hancock matched Shuman through his five innings of action, working around five hits and striking out five. Georgia Southern (3-5) chased Hancock after forcing him to throw 94 pitches in his relatively short outing, but left-hander Ryan Webb emerged from the bullpen and went to work, striking out seven in three innings of stellar relief.
Aaron Schunk spent the first eight innings manning third base for the Bulldogs before shifting to the mound and working a perfect ninth inning to notch his second save of the season.
C.J. Smith led off the top of the third with a single off of Shuman and advanced to third when Cam Sheppard doubled to right. Shuman worked out of the inning without allowing another hit, but UGA did enough to dent the scoreboard as Riley King knocked in Smith with an RBI groundout and Schunk chased home Sheppard with a sacrifice fly to center.
Shuman has looked every bit like the ace Georgia Southern expects him to be - save for allowing five runs in his very first inning of the season opener at Auburn - but he hasn’t had much help.
Georgia Southern has combined to score just four total runs in Shuman’s three starts.
The Eagles were able to cut their early deficit in half in the fourth when Matt Anderson connected for a two-out double - one of a pair of doubles on the night for the GS catcher - and came around to score when Steven Curry followed with a single up the middle. Unfortunately, that was the beginning and end of any timely hitting for the Eagles.
Tyler Martin managed the Eagles’ only hit off of Webb with a pinch-hit, leadoff single to begin the seventh, but never got any closer to home. Jason Swan struck out, Blake Evans popped up to second and Austin Thompson struck out swinging to end Southern’s best threat to tie the game.
Georgia Southern also put its leadoff man on base in the eighth when Noah Searcy was hit by a pitch, but the Eagles never put a ball in play in the frame as Mason McWhorter, Christian Avant and Anderson all went down on strikes.
Through eight games, the Eagles are hitting just .208 as a team. Even more troubling, Georgia Southern has just 60 hits to 78 strikeouts while working out just 25 walks. Adding salt to the wound is that the Eagles’ pitching has held opposing bats to similar numbers. Opponents are hitting a miniscule .202 and the Georgia Southern staff boasts a cumulative 2.87 earned run average.
The hits are few and far between for everyone involved, but opponents have tended to find the clutch hits more often while the Eagles have averaged nine runners left on base per game.
Georgia added an insurance run in the ninth with an unearned run off of Hayden Harris. The Eagles’ lefty reliever worked two effective innings, but with two outs in the ninth, a grounder by Connor Tate went through the legs of Evans and allowed L.J. Talley to score from second base.
Due to heavy rain in the forecast for Sunday, today will feature both remaining games in the series. Today’s first game will begin at the originally scheduled time of 1 p.m. The teams will take a short break before beginning the second game at 7:30 p.m.