KSU’s baseball team entered Wednesday’s home game, against the Presbyterian Blue Hose, riding an impressive four-game winning streak that saw countless late-inning heroics.
The magic fizzled out at Stillwell Stadium as strong 8th and 9th innings from the Blue Hose’s hit-and-run offense methodically pulled away with three runs in the final two innings to take a, 9-6, victory over the Black and Gold.
Early on, it appeared that KSU (9-8) was on the charge again, taking a 5-1 lead in the third inning. With the game knotted at 1-1 in the bottom of the inning, Peyton Hart followed a single by reaching second on a wild pick-off attempt by the Blue Hose’s pitcher.
Ronnie Freeman recorded his team leading 16th RBI two at-bats later, scoring Hart. Freeman had the team’s first RBI of the game in the very first inning.
Andy Chriscaden would also reach base, thanks to a wild throw on what appeared to be a routine play by Presbyterian’s third baseman.
The Owls’ Chris McGowan would make the Blue Hose pay for its mistakes, cranking a three-run homer over the right field wall. Initially, fans reacted as if Presbyterian’s right fielder hauled the ball in at the wall. A homerun was signaled seconds later.
KSU’s starting pitcher, Nathan Harsh, who had recorded four strikeouts in the previous innings, struggled in the fourth frame. Harsh was pulled in favor of relief pitcher Justin McCalvin after allowing a two-run homer and a solo homerun in consecutive at-bats, putting the score at 5-4.
The game was tied at 6-6 all the way up until the 8th inning, where Presbyterian’s offense was able to catch fire.
KSU would not have as much luck. Trailing 9-6 in the final frame, the Blue Hose’s Gabe Grammer, who started the game in center field, came to the mound to close the game. Grammer allowed a single to Andy Almonte, but cleaned up with three consecutive strikeouts, dealt to the heart of the Owls’ lineup, so record the victory.
“You know, I felt like we have played some late inning games. Some extra inning games,” said head coach Mike Sansing. “Tonight I didn’t feel like we had that energy we were needing for the entire game. We were scoreless from the 6th to the 9th inning.”
KSU had seen consistent, late heroics in the previous few contests. The Owls needed comebacks in two of their three games against Georgia State on March 10 and 11. Additionally, Ronnie Freeman hit a grand-slam against UAB to break a 3-3 tie, earning the Owls a 7-3 win at home on Tuesday.
The Owls pulled six pitchers from the bullpen during the contest, however coach Sansing insists the team has habitually used a deep number of pitchers because of situations and versatility.
“Well, that’s been typical for us,” said Sansing. “We have a deep bullpen. We’ve got some guys that are match up.”
“We had to go a little bit early tonight with McCalvin there in the fourth,” said Sansing. “I feel real good about the back end of our bullpen. I think they’ve done a great job, and those guys are going to get a lot of action.”
The Owls open conference play on March 16 on the road against in-state rival Mercer. The Bears are hot, owning a 7-1 home record and a 13-5 overall record.
“Yeah, we are going to get tested right away,” said Sansing. “They’ve got solid pitching. Their hitting numbers and power numbers are very good. We will get an idea of where we are in the first weekend.”
KSU’s next home game will be on March 28 against Western Carolina. The Owls will also host the nationally ranked Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets on April 3 at Stillwell Stadium.