May 22, 2014
Charleston, S.C. -
Georgia Southern's Ben Morgan went 2-for-4 with three RBIs and one of the Eagles' four home runs on the day as the fourth-seed eliminated top-seeded Western Carolina, 8-4, in Thursday's first game of the Southern Conference Baseball Championship at Joseph P. Riley, Jr. Park. GSU scored seven of its runs over the final four frames to earn the victory.
GSU (35-21) advances to face the loser of Thursday evening's game between No. 5 seed Appalachian State and No. 8 seed Furman at 3:00 pm Friday. Barring an at-large selection into the NCAA post-season field, back-to-back regular-season SoCon champion Western Carolina sees its season come to a close at 37-18.
Thursday's game featured five total home runs - one more than the four hit in the previous six games of the tournament combined.
With the Catamounts leading 2-1, GSU led off the sixth with back-to-back home runs to reclaim the advantage. Morgan opened the frame with a homer over the scoreboard in left field, and Aaron Mizell followed with a towering blast over the batter's eye in center to make it a 3-2 contest in the Eagles' favor.
Western Carolina answered with an Adam Martin line-drive home run to lead off the bottom half of the sixth, tying the contest at three. For Martin, the homer was his 14th of the season, matching teammate Jacob Hoyle for the team-high while also collecting his 65th RBI of the year.
The Eagles quickly responded, though, going ahead for good the following frame. After Chase Griffin drew a one-out walk, Dalton Busby got in on the home run act with a shot out to left field that just got over the fence to make it 5-3 in GSU's favor.
The Catamounts clawed back to within a run on Bradley Strong's RBI triple in the bottom of the seventh, but Georgia Southern put the contest away with three runs in the top of the eighth. Griffin drove in a run on a ground-rule double and two batters later, Morgan hit a two-run single to make it 8-4.
Strong's sixth triple of the season gives the junior 13 for his WCU career, moving him into a tie for second in program history. The Richlands, Va., native matched former Catamount Danny Jones who had 13 three-base hits from 1964-67, and moves him to within two of matching career record holder, Martin Barrow (15, 1995-98).
WCU had one last chance for the comeback in the bottom of the ninth but stranded two runners. Danny Bermudez led off with a ground-rule double, and after a pair of outs, Aaron Attaway drew a walk to put runners at the corners. Strong then lifted a fly ball down the left-field line, but Stryker Brown made the long run and tracked it down on a dead sprint to end the ballgame.
The contest was shaping up to be a pitchers' duel in the first few innings, with GSU's Sam Howard and WCU's Jeremy Null, a second-team all-conference selection, dealing early. The duo entered the contest third and fourth in the league in ERA, respectively.
Eagle freshman Garren Palmer hit a solo homer to left in the second for the game's first run, but that was one of just four hits Null scattered through the first five innings. The GSU offense would find its stride after that, though, with the consecutive home runs in the sixth and Busby's two-run shot in the seventh, which ultimately chased Null from the game.
Howard was also effective in the early going, facing just two over the minimum through the first three innings before Western Carolina struck for two runs in the fourth. The Catamounts scored their first run on Dykota Spiess' sacrifice fly to deep right, and another run came in on Taylor Sandefur's RBI fielder's choice.
Howard (5-6) picked up the win for GSU, allowing four runs on six hits and two walks in 6 2/3 innings, striking out four. Relievers Jason Richman and Matt McCall tossed two frames of two-hit, scoreless relief with Ryan Frederick earning his first save of the year by recording the game's final out on a fly ball down the left field line.
Null (6-4) took the loss, allowing five runs on seven hits and two walks in 6 1/3 innings, striking out five. Sophomore Colton Davis threw an inning out of the bullpen with senior T.J. Fussell recording an out and junior Tyler Powell striking out one, working around two walks and two hits in an inning and a third of scoreless relief.
Five players had two hits each for the Eagles, who pounded out 13 total. A trio of Catamounts - Bermudez, Strong and Martin - each had two hits apiece to pace the Catamounts. Martin and Strong both recorded stolen bases, the 20th and ninth on the season, respectively.
The 2014 NCAA Division I Baseball Championship Selection Show, with regional pairings and top eight national seeds, will be revealed in a live, one-hour telecast on ESPNU at Noon (ET), Monday, May 26.