WVU Drops Series Opener to GSU 7-4

A lack of timely hitting and control issues spoiled a 4-0 lead as Georgia Southern rallied past West Virginia 7-4 in the series opener on Friday.

The Mountaineers, which escaped multiple early jams and managed to build a 4-0 lead, were hindered by multiple walks and an inability to retire key hitters over the final four innings as Georgia Southern used Hunter Thomas’ three-hit, three RBI performance – including a game-tying solo home run in the sixth inning – to take the first game.

West Virginia’s young, inexperienced staff, which had pitched brilliantly in taking the season-opening series against then-No. 24 Clemson, allowed four more runs to the Eagles than they had for the complete initial three-game set partially because of seven walks and two hit batsmen. Starter K.J. Myers, who shutout the Tigers over five innings in the opener, completed four innings with three runs, all earned, on four hits with three walks. He struggled with control at times, loading the bases in the second and third innings, the latter setting up Georgia Southern with a full plate on two walks and a hit batsman on just 12 of his 69 pitches.

The Eagles scored two at that point to cut the early 4-0 deficit in half, then got within a run on a bases loaded single before Thomas’ blast off reliever Adam Keller in the sixth tied the game. Georgia Southern took the lead for good when via a pair of runs on designated hitter Will Hudgins’ bases loaded single that signaled the exit for Keller after allowing four runs, all earned, in just 1 2.3 innings.. WVU’s second reliever, Romney native Shane Ennis, however, then allowed a walk and a wild pitch to push the deficit to the final 7-4. The run was charged to Keller, who dropped to 0-1 with the defeat.

GSU starter Evan Challenger, who hadn’t allowed an earned run coming into the game after recording a season-opening win against Bethune-Cookman, allowed four runs, two earned, on 70 pitches. WVU got to the lefthander early, pushing across four runs in the second and stranding three baserunners in the third before Challenger set them down in order in the fourth. He was pulled in the fifth inning after allowing a double to Jackson Cramer. The pitch count was likely the issue, as the sophomore worked into the sixth in his season debut, allowing just two hits with six strikeouts in retiring 16 of his 18 batters faced.

It didn’t much matter, as a trio of relievers combined to render WVU hitless over the final 4 2/3 innings, with Caleb Pressey (1-0) taking the win despite throwing just 19 pitches over 1 2/3 innings. Georgia Southern’s lone loss, 7-4 to Georgia Tech, came on a two-out grand slam in the seventh inning.

West Virginia (2-2) took a 4-0 lead in the second. Justin Fox and Shaun Corso opened the frame with consecutive singles, putting runners at the corners for designated hitter Kyle Davis, who singled to left center for an RBI. With runners on first and second, Ray Guerrini’s sac bunt was misplayed by second baseman Kent Rollins. That scored Corso and advanced Davis to third when Guerrini took second on the throwing miscue. KC Huth and Taylor Munden followed with an RBI groundout and fly out, respectively, to score Davis and Guerrini to go ahead 4-0.

Georgia Southern responded with a walk and a single to open the bottom half, but stranded three when, after a line and foul out, a single to load the bases was followed by Jordan Howard’s ground out to first. WVU returned the favor in the third inning, getting consecutive walks and a missed opportunity on a fielder’s choice to load the bases after two outs. A force to second ended the threat, and set the Eagles up for a two-run bottom half when, after loading the bases on the two walks and a hit batsman on just 12 pitches, a sac fly ad single plated two before a double play ended the inning at 4-2.

Georgia Southern picked up another run in the fifth inning, when Myers, facing his last batter of the game, allowed a leadoff triple to Kody Adams, who scored on Aaron Mizell’s single back to Keller. Keller, who struck out his first batter faced, induced an inning-ending double play when, after Mizell stole second, he got hung up between first and second on a diving by Brad Johnson in left and was tagged out to end the inning with WVU ahead 4-3.

The top of West Virginia’s order – Munden, Wood and Johnson – combined for a 1-for-12 performance with a single RBI and zero extra base hits. Cramer, Fox, Croso and Davis had the remainder of WVU’s five hits, with Davis also scoring a run and tallying an RBI.

The pitching performance was a surprise against a supposedly less potent line-up, especially after the staff posted a 1.04 ERA in 26.0 innings with 20 strikeouts and 10 walks, holding opponents to a .253 batting average. Myers started on Friday, taking the no-decision after allowing no runs on four hits with five strikeouts in five innings. He has yet to be the pitcher of record this season. Seven of the eight relievers did not allow a run last weekend. Head coach Randy Mazey will stick with last weekend’s rotation, starting junior left-hander Ross Vance on Saturday and sophomore right-hander Chad Dontato on Sunday.

Eagles coach Rodney Hennon will start the right-handed Adam Kelly (0-0, 21.69 ERA), on Saturday and left-hander Connor Simmons (0-0, 0.00) on Sunday. Both pitchers started against Bethune-Cookman last weekend. Game times are 1 p.m. Saturday and 12:30 p.m. Sunday.

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