A day after surrendering four home runs in a loss, Georgia Southern used two long balls of its own in a 6-4 victory over Appalachian State Saturday afternoon at J.I. Clements stadium. Ryan Cleveland launched his eighth homer of the season in the second and Tyler Martin added an insurance run with a blast in the fifth, but it was a three-run fourth inning rally the erased an early Eagle deficit and paved the way for the series win.
Trailing 4-2 in the fourth, Martin and Mason McWhorter started the rally with singles off of Appalachian starter Luke Watts. The pair advanced on a sacrifice bunt and Jacob Greene tied the game with a line drive single into left. The Eagles (23-13, 9-6 Sun Belt) kept the bats going as Logan Baldwin, Steven Curry and Mitchell Golden reached on consecutive singles, with Golden’s grounder into left giving GS its first lead.
“I liked the way we battled,” GS coach Rodney Hennon said. “We certainly responded a little better than when we fell behind yesterday. We competed at the plate. We had a solid game defensively and the bullpen really stepped up.”
Eagle starter Chase Cohen escaped a jam in the top of the first before running out of luck in the second inning. After retiring the leadoff batter, Cohen issued a walk to Chandler Seagle before Conner Leonard smoked a fastball over the center field fence for a 2-0 Mountaineer lead and his second home run in as many days.
Cohen’s struggles continued as the next two batters reached, setting up a perfectly executed squeeze bunt by Drake Zupcic to make it 3-0.
Cleveland began the Eagles’ charge in the bottom of the frame, smacking a high fly to left that carried just over the wall. With two on and one out, Greene lofted a fly ball to shallow right. It might not have been deep enough for a sacrifice fly, but Brian Bauk couldn’t keep it in his glove and Martin raced home to make it a 3-2 ballgame.
The Mountaineers (13-23, 4-11) got one back in the top of the third. Cohen was lifted from the game after allowing the first two batters to reach and Eagle reliever Eric Goldstein was rudely welcomed, allowing an RBI double to Leonard. Goldstein was immediately replaced by Anthony Paesano, who struck out Calev Grubbs before the GS bullpen phone rang once more.
Landon Hughes has been lights out as the Eagles’ closer this season, but was asked to take on a different role Saturday afternoon. Hughes closed the door on the Mountaineer threat in the third and worked through the sixth inning, striking out four and allowing just one walk while keeping ASU hitless.
“I was ready to go as long as I had to,” Hughes said. “Sometimes you have to do things a little different. A lot of guys filled different roles today, but everyone was ready and did their job.”
Hughes was credited with the win as he was in the game when the Eagles pulled ahead. Ryan Frederick took the mound in the seventh inning and picked up where Hughes left off, striking out the side.
Connor Simmons struck out two more while working a clean eighth inning and Seth Shuman - making his first appearance since mid-March - earned his first collegiate save with a perfect ninth.
“Once we got the lead, being able to go out and (have our pitchers) put zeroes on the board was big,” Hennon said.
Halfway through the conference schedule, the Eagles are tied for second place in their division with a weekend series at division leader and defending national champion Coastal Carolina looming.
“This is where we start to evaluate some more things,” Hennon said. “It’s also getting to the end of the school year. It’s a big week on the field and a big week academically and we need to be at our best.”