The Georgia Southern baseball team looked to wrap up a series win over UL Monroe Saturday night at J.I. Clements Stadium, but an early lead gave way to five unanswered runs for the visiting Warhawks and Monroe survived a late rally to take a 5-4 victory and even the series.
The Eagles (16-11, 4-4 Sun Belt) rolled to a 9-3 win on Friday night and seemed to only be gaining momentum when a C.J. Brazil single and a Logan Baldwin sacrifice fly plated the first two runs of the game in the second inning. But UL Monroe (9-19, 4-4) saw its offense spark to life.
Eagle starter Brian Eichhorn started the rally for ULM by walking Blake Buckman and hitting Nathan Reynolds to begin the top of the third. Johnny DeLaCruz evened the score with a two-run double down the right field line and Chad Bell plated DeLaCruz with a two-out single to give the Warhawks their first lead of the series.
Cade Harper tripled into the right center field gap in the fourth inning and scored on a single by Reynolds that chased Eichhorn from the game. Even Challenger entered in relief and got out of the fourth inning, but surrendered four singles in the fifth inning that allowed ULM to stretch its lead to 5-2.
“This is where you need to have that killer instinct,” GS coach Rodney Hennon said. “We got up a couple of runs, but didn’t put it away. We didn’t pitch real well and we gave away a couple of at-bats.”
Georgia Southern pounded out 12 hits on the night and seemed to make better contact than in previous games - where runners left on base were a huge factor - but the Warhawk defense turned double plays in both the fifth and sixth innings to erase potential rallies. Trying to force the advancement of runners didn’t work out any better for the Eagles as ULM catcher Spencer Hemphill was 3-for-3 in gunning down would-be base stealers, clipping Golden, Jordan Wren and Logan Baldwin.
“You’ve got to give them credit,” Hennon said. “Monroe played very well. Their pitcher settled in after we scored early. They made some plays on defense and their catcher made every throw.”
The Eagles had their best chance to get back into the game in the seventh when Chase Cater relieved starter Chase Beal.
Cater retired his first batter before allowing singles to Steven Curry and Golden. A wild pitch moved the runners to second and third, and an infield single by Wren plated Curry. Ryan Cleveland went down on strikes and ULM closer Anthony Herrera made an early entry into the game, but allowed an RBI infield single to Tyler Martin to bring the Eagles within 5-4.
But that was as close as the Eagles would get.
Mason McWhorter grounded out to end the seventh and Baldwin reached on an error - only to be eliminated while attempting to steal second - in an otherwise clean eighth inning. Curry singled to lead off the ninth and was moved into scoring position via a sacrifice bunt, but Herrera struck out Baldwin and Cameron Hankins to slam the door on the Eagles.
The teams will meet up again to decide the series, with first pitch scheduled for 1 p.m.
“We saw this two weeks ago,” Hennon said of the South Alabama series, which saw the Eagles win on Friday, only to drop the final two games of the series. “I was disappointed with the response and with the energy in that series. We didn’t have the best response tonight. We need to make sure that we come out (Sunday) ready to play.”