Saturday, April 7, 2018

Eight-run eighth lifts Paladins to win at Mercer

Jake Crawford belted a three-run home run in an eight-run eighth inning
Friday to help Furman win 12-9 at Mercer. Photo courtesy of Furman.
Two nights after rallying from a 10-0 deficit to snap an eight-game losing streak, the Furman baseball team might have pulled off a win even more remarkable Friday at Mercer. In a tie game in the eighth inning, the Paladins scored five runs off the Southern Conference's best pitcher this season and went on to a 12-9 victory.

The win gets Furman back to .500 at 15-15 overall and 1-3 in the SoCon. The Bears, who had won 13 of their last 14 games - including six in a row - entering Friday, fall to 25-7 and 5-2 in the league.

"We went to a place that I think is probably the hardest in the SoCon to win at, against the team to beat in the SoCon, and we had to not only do it against the best starter but also the best reliever in the conference," Furman coach Brett Harker told Dan Scott afterwards. "We did all that tonight and I'm very proud of our boys."

In a 4-4 game, Furman leadoff man Ben Anderson opened the top of the seventh with a single. Mercer called on reliever Robert Broom, who entered Friday as the SoCon's leader in ERA (1.26), tied for first in wins - with teammate and Friday starter Austin Cox at six, and third in strikeouts at 54 in just 35 2/3 innings. He immediately padded that strikeout total by fanning the side in the seventh.

The eighth inning was a different story. Brandon Elmy opened the frame with a double before Broom notched another strikeout. Jabari Richards singled and took second on the throw home that held pinch-runner David Webel at third. Bret Huebner laid down a squeeze bunt so perfect that he was easily safe at first and Webel easily scored the go-ahead run.

After Sims Griffith walked to load the bases, a wild pitch sent Richards home to make it 6-4. Another run scored on a Mercer error which ended Broom's night at 46 pitches. Freshman Jared Mihalik delivered a two-out RBI-single before Jake Crawford hammered a three-run home run the opposite way to push the lead to 11-4. After Deon Sanders' pinch-hit double, Landon Kay capped the eight-run inning with an RBI-single.

Things got dicey in the bottom half of the inning as a pair of Furman errors helped the Bears put up a five spot to cut the lead to 12-9. Tyler Kimbrell came on with two outs and got a strikeout to end the inning.

Mercer opened the bottom of the ninth with back-to-back singles before Kimbrell got a strikeout and a pop-up. That brought up cleanup hitter Trey Truitt, who entered Friday as the SoCon's leader in batting (.435), slugging (.774), on-base percentage (.529), runs (44), hits (50), home runs (10) and total bases (89), as the potential tying run. Kimbrell struck out Truitt looking to end the game. Truitt went 0-for-6, snapping his 29-game streak of reaching base.

"The bottom of the eighth was a little sketchy to say the least but I told our guys that anytime we can learn a lesson and still get a win out of it, that's a plus," Harker said.

Furman trailed 3-0 before putting up four runs in the fifth. Anderson's two-run triple got the Paladins on the board and Jason Costa's groundout brought Anderson home with the tying run. Mihalik followed with his second homer this season to give Furman a 4-3 lead. While he blanked the Paladins for the first four innings, Cox had to depart after five innings at the 111-pitch mark.

Despite allowing a game-tying home run after recording the first out of the bottom of the fifth, freshman Jordan Beatson allowed no more runs and just one other hit in three innings of relief for his first collegiate win. Beatson had no walks and two strikeouts. Kimbrell earned his fourth save.

"Beatson just comes in and gets big outs, puts up big zeros and lets you stay around for that big (offensive) inning to happen," Harker said. "It's a whole different story when you just need to figure out how to score one against (Broom) versus if they were up two or three runs."

Anderson, Mihalik and Huebner had three hits apiece to lead Furman's 16-hit attack.

The teams play game two of the three-game series Saturday at 6 p.m.

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