Georgia Southern splits first two games, drops 13 inning game three in opening series against No. 15 Auburn

McClain Baxley

With a young team and a raw bullpen, the Georgia Southern baseball team was able to steal a win from No. 15 Auburn and take the Tigers into 13 innings in Sunday’s series finale.

Following the Eagles’ 11-2 season-opening loss Friday night, head coach Rodney Hennon said the game was lost in the first inning, where the Tigers put up five runs on junior RHP Seth Shuman.

“In college baseball, the big inning is huge,” Hennon said. “It’s hard to win when you give up the big inning.”

The Eagles chipped away throughout the losing effort, scoring their second run of the season in the second inning, but couldn’t match the highflying efforts of the Tigers’ bats.

Saturday’s game two held a completely different script. A completely younger script.

Three freshman Eagles stepped into glory in Saturday to give GS the 7-5, 13 inning victory.

It began with freshman RHP Braden Hays. His first two innings were perfect—a strikeout, three groundouts and two flyballs preserved momentum on GS’ side.

Then Hennon’s feared big inning happened, this time in the third.

Hays’ first pitch of the third inning was met with a double to left field, but he responded with a strikeout.

Judd Ward stepped up and delivered a single to bring home Kason Howell. Two batters later and Hays was facing a bases loaded, two outs situation.

If the left field wall at Plainsman Park had been a little shorter, the Eagles would’ve been staring at a five run deficit instead of a four run after Edouard Julien blasted a ball to left field.

The four runs were all AU could muster up in the third frame.

Hays and preseason All-American pitcher Tanner Burns continued to battle and deal with no threatening offense being created.

Sophomore shortstop Austin Thompson’s two-run home run in the sixth inning changed that. AU singled in the bottom frame, but three quick outs from sophomore LHP Hayden Harris extinguished any extension of the lead.

The Eagles tied the game in the top of the seventh with two more runs by way of an error and a wild pitch. Another sophomore pitcher, David Johnson, performed well and did not allow any runs.

GS took the lead in the eighth and AU sent the game into extra innings.

It was in the bottom of the eleventh inning that the second freshman star began his rise. Aidan McAlister got the final two outs, the final out with a clean pick off at first.

{{tncms-inline account=”Captain” html=”<blockquote class="twitter-tweet"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">I was just about to tweet about McAlister's pickoff move, and he picked Howell off at first. SO smooth. It's 5-5 as we go to the top of the 12th inning. <a href="https://twitter.com/GeorgeAnneSport?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@GeorgeAnneSport</a></p>— Captain (@McclainBaxley) <a href="https://twitter.com/McclainBaxley/status/1096917599387111424?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">February 16, 2019</a></blockquote>” id=”https://twitter.com/McclainBaxley/status/1096917599387111424″ type=”twitter”}}

For most freshmen, coming into a sudden death situation is not the ideal first outing experience. But McAlister welcomed it.

“It was a big, electric crowd today. A lot of hecklers,” McAlister said. “It was a big experience out there today. I’ve been dreaming about this my whole life.”

Three up, three down from both squads sent the game to the 13th inning where another freshman’s moment awaited.

Facing an 0-1 count, freshman designated hitter Noah Ledford took a swing that sent the ball over the right field wall. The remaining GS faithful went ecstatic.

“I knew I had to do something positive to start the inning because it was getting late,” Ledford said. “All of us were getting tired so I had to get something good out of the way.”

The offensive cushion didn’t end with the second homerun of the game. AU’s Ryan Watson, who hadn’t allowed a hit until Ledford, began to lose control and allowed junior Mason Miller to get a single down the middle.

Watson was pulled, Miller advanced to third on a wild pitch and was then brought home on another wild pitch.

McAlister went back out for the 13th frame to try and give the Eagles their first win of the season. A strikeout and two fly balls were all McAlister needed to earn his first career win.

“We know we can compete with all of these teams and I think tonight proved that,” Ledford said following the win.

The Eagles were able to come back from the multi-run inning, something they failed to do the night before. Hennon credited that to the full team effort and more regular pregame.

“It’s always a little tense there late in the game, I’m not going to lie,” Hennon said. “But I think as a whole, we were more relaxed as a club today. Just the way were able to get out and go through a normal pregame routine today.”

{{tncms-inline account=”Captain” html=”<blockquote class="twitter-tweet"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">Final: Georgia Southern defeats No. 21 Auburn 7-5 in 13 innings. <a href="https://twitter.com/aidanmac_27?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@aidanmac_27</a> gets the win. Game three will be Sunday at 1 p.m. CT. <a href="https://t.co/JBLiB2PgkY">pic.twitter.com/JBLiB2PgkY</a></p>— Captain (@McclainBaxley) <a href="https://twitter.com/McclainBaxley/status/1096929378112626688?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">February 17, 2019</a></blockquote>” id=”https://twitter.com/McclainBaxley/status/1096929378112626688″ type=”twitter”}}

The offense that was present Friday was there again Saturday, but the Eagles were able to convert and bring their teammates home. The bullpen and youth also worked hand in hand to give GS the upset victory.

“Those guys showed a lot of poise out there for their first time pitching at this level. It was encouraging,” Hennon said. “When your starter gives you a good start out of the gate, like Braden did, it makes all the difference in the world.”

Junior college transfer Kyle Gray earned the game three start for the Tigers and gave up a walk to Searcy in the second inning. Two batters later, junior second baseman Steven Curry was hit for the second time this season to put two Eagles on base.

An error loaded the bases before Searcy scored an unearned run on a flyball for the game’s first score. Another error brought Curry home to make it a 2-0 game.

Another new pitcher for GS kept the Eagles in the game—Sunday’s edition was Montreat College transfer Daniel Collins. Collins went five innings giving up just one run, one walk, while striking out two Tigers.

{{tncms-inline account=”Captain” html=”<blockquote class="twitter-tweet"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">Such a collected inning for Collins who threw just 10 pitches and had a strikeout. Horn stays in for Auburn in the top of the sixth inning to face Evans, Avant, Thompson. <a href="https://twitter.com/GeorgeAnneSport?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@GeorgeAnneSport</a></p>— Captain (@McclainBaxley) <a href="https://twitter.com/McclainBaxley/status/1097235457975422977?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">February 17, 2019</a></blockquote>” id=”https://twitter.com/McclainBaxley/status/1097235457975422977″ type=”twitter”}}

GS maintained its one run lead into the seventh inning where Julien hit an inside the park home run off the left field wall. Momentum that had been encapsulated by GS was now in AU’s full control.

Freshman RHP Jonathan Edwards was able to settle down after the home run, making quick work of the next three batters to take the tied game into the eighth inning.

AU took its first lead of the day by way of a bases loaded single off of Harris. Like Edwards, Harris collected himself and pitched his way out of any further damage, even with the remaining home crowd barking in his ear.

“Going on the road early in the year is always a good test for your team,” Hennon said. “I thought we showed a lot of poise and a lot of composure.”

Down by a run and down to their final three outs, it was time for former leadoff man sophomore Jason Swan to take matters into his own hands.

“I just wanted to get on base for my team and tie it up,” the first baseman said. “I was just hype when I got the single up the middle.”

With a man on first and one out, AU made a pitching change. Martin hit a single against closer Jake Owen.

Swan stole third, his second stolen base of the season. An error moved Martin to second with Searcy at the plate.

Searcy struck out swinging and got out at first, but not before Swan made his way home with ease.

“I knew I had to score for my team, so when they dropped the third strike and threw it down to first, I took off and knew I was going to make it all the way,” Swan said.

Harris worked a seamless bottom of the ninth to force another extra inning ballgame.

The pitcher’s duel between Owen and Harris carried over into the 10th and 11th innings, before senior LHP Lawson Humphries relieved Harris.

Neither team was able to create any serious offense until the bottom of the 13th, where a string of walks led to a bases loaded. A four pitch walk from senior LHP Tristan Roberts sent the Tigers into a dogpile and left the Eagles speechless, heads hanging.

“Nobody backed down and nobody gave in,” Hennon said. “Obviously, not the result that you want, but if we can continue to take the same approach to the game that we did this opening weekend, I think a lot of good things will happen to this club.”

At 1-2, the Eagles will head home for a Tuesday night matchup with Georgia Tech before hosting West Virginia in a three game weekend series. Players and coaches alike saw positives in the series loss and feel they have just as good of a shot as any team to compete any given night.

“These guys had great focus all weekend and I’m glad we had a great effort. Our guys played very unselfish all weekend long,” Hennon said. “We’re looking forward to going back home.”

McClain Baxley, The George-Anne Daily Managing Editor,  [email protected]