Friday, April 13, 2018

Big plays lift Paladins to big win over Wofford

Furman's Sims Griffith hit a two-run homer and made big plays defensively
to help the Paladins defeat Wofford 4-3 Friday. Photo courtesy of Furman.
A script for beating one of the Southern Conference's top aces probably wouldn't include no RBIs from the top seven batters in your lineup. A script for slowing down one of the most aggressive base-running teams in the country probably wouldn't suggest allowing 13 hits.

So you might say that Furman improvised its way to a huge win Friday evening at Latham Stadium. The Paladins played spectacular defense, made Wofford pay for its defensive miscues, and came up with some big pitches to open the three-game series with a 4-3 victory.

"Win or loss, that's the way baseball should be played. We just played with passion, a ton of energy and competed our tails off," Furman coach Brett Harker said. "That's probably the best we've competed all year.
"We just showed a lot of grit facing what I think is the best starting pitcher (Wofford's Adam Scott) in the league. ... Your margin of error was so small with that kind of opposing pitcher on the mound."

Catcher Logan Taplett and second baseman Sims Griffith, the No. 8 and 9 hitters respectively in Furman's lineup, shined at the plate and in the field Friday.

Furman (17-17, 3-4 SoCon) trailed 1-0 with two outs in the bottom of the fourth when Taplett bounced on RBI-single up the middle to tie the game.

An inning later, Taplett threw out Wofford's McClain Bradley trying to steal second. That marked just the 15th time this season that a Terrier was caught stealing, and just the eighth time Taplett gunned down a runner in 40 attempts. Wofford (23-12, 4-3) entered Friday ranked No. 3 in the NCAA in stolen bases with 93. While the Terriers had two steals Friday, they were both uncontested as each came at second with runners on first and third.

"(Taplett) threw him out by a ton. Our pitchers did an unbelievable job of controlling the running game but when we got that opportunity and threw him out at second, you just felt the momentum shift," Harker said. "When that happened it was like 'okay, the things we worked on all week will work when we execute them.' He called an unbelievable game too."

Griffith ended the top of the fifth by running deep into right-field foul territory and making a fantastic backhanded catch. He then started the top of the sixth with basically the same play, although not as deep into foul ground.

In the bottom of the sixth, Landon Kay reached on an error and stole second. With two outs, Taplett bounced a 1-2 pitch from Scott for another single up the middle. That scored Kay and gave Furman a 2-1 lead. Griffith followed with his second home run of the season to push the lead to three.

"I haven't really been swinging it that well, but I started seeing it better today. I was pretty confident at the plate even though my first two at-bats didn't go my way. I just kept with it and just connected with one," Griffith said. "One of our main team things is being resilient. I really think we showed that today in every aspect. They were hitting the ball around on us, but we persevered and made the play when we had to."

The biggest play on an evening full of gems came in the top of the seventh. After Tyler Kimbrell came on in relief of starter Nik Verbeke, he got the first out before the Terriers had three consecutive singles to load the bases. Wofford cleanup hitter Andrew Orzel hit a ball deep into foul territory in right that Griffith once again was able to track down. However with Griffith's back to the infield, Furman rightfielder Landon Kay wisely called for it. After making the catch, Kay fired the ball home with a money throw to Taplett who tagged out Wofford leadoff man Colin Davis trying to score from third to end the inning.

The Terriers cut the lead to 4-2 with one out in the eighth when Jake Crawford came on in relief of Kimbrell. Wofford got another run before Crawford stranded runners at second and third with an inning-ending strikeout of Bradley, who went 3-for-5 Friday to raise his team-leading batting average to .373.

Crawford opened the ninth by striking out Mack Nathanson, who's batting .342 with team highs in homers (6) and RBIs (34). After a hit batter, Crawford's next pitch was grounded to third to start a game-ending 5-4-3 double play as Crawford pumped his fist in celebration.

"To end the game on a double play with the entire infield out of position (due to Crawford pitching instead of playing third) right there, that's special," Harker said.

Verbeke (4-2) allowed one run on six hits in six innings for a well-deserved win. He had two walks and five strikeouts, including one of Nathanson with one run in and two runners on in the third and another with the bases loaded to end the fourth. Crawford recorded the final five outs for his second save.

"The kid (Verbeke) competes ... and he's got a ton of heart," Harker said.

Scott (5-3) took the complete game loss for the Terriers. He allowed four runs, one earned, on seven hits in eight innings. Scott had one walk and 11 strikeouts giving him 11 walks and a SoCon-best 80 strikeouts in 62 1/3 innings.

The teams wrap up the series with a doubleheader Saturday scheduled to begin at 1 p.m.

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