Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Paladins snap losing streak in stunning fashion

Jabari Richards' eighth-inning grand slam lifted Furman to a 13-12
win over Georgia State Wednesday. Photo courtesy of Furman.
When Furman's homerless streak entered its 83rd inning Wednesday, the Paladins trailed 10-0 and appeared well on their way to a ninth consecutive loss. Then a bounce finally went Furman's way.

With two outs in the bottom of the third and Furman down 10-0, Jake Crawford lined a shot off Georgia State starter Bryan White. Given how things had been going the past two-and-a-half weeks, the ball seemed destined to carom right to first base for the third out. Instead it landed wide of first allowing Crawford to reach and Ben Anderson to come home.

Freshman Jared Mihalik followed with a home run to left, snapping Furman's homerless streak at 82 2/3 innings. The long ball did a lot more than give Mihalik his first collegiate RBI. It seemingly ripped the chains off the rest of the Paladins. Furman hit three more homers, including a pair of grand slams, to rally for a 13-12 win.

"We finally made a pitcher pay for a hanging breaking ball," Harker said of Mihalik's shot. "It felt like a curse was broken. ... All of a sudden, everybody just relaxed.
"That's baseball and that's why you come out and play nine innings because I'm going to tell you, it didn't really look that good."

It's the first win for the Paladins (14-15) since March 17, which was also the date of Furman's last home run prior to Wednesday as Anderson led off that game with a dinger.

The Panthers (13-15) opened the game with a pair of singles then loaded the bases when the Paladins fumbled a double play grounder. Brandon Bell followed with a grand slam. Georgia State added homers in the second and third to push its lead to 10-0.

After Mihalik's home run in the bottom of the third, Brandon Elmy followed with another homer to cut the lead to 10-4. The next inning, it was Georgia State that couldn't turn an inning-ending double play because of an error. The miscue loaded the bases for Jason Costa, who sent the next pitch over the left-field wall to make it 10-8.

The Panthers answered with two runs in the fifth, highlighted by Nick Gatewood's second homer of the day. Furman got a run back in the bottom half, scoring on an error to pull within three at 12-9.

The score remained that way until the bottom of the eighth. With two outs and the bases loaded, Jabari Richards drilled a 1-0 pitch over the centerfield wall giving the Paladins a 13-12 lead. Crawford worked around a one-out error in the ninth to close out the game.

"There were so many working parts to this game. To be honest with you, we did so many things wrong for half the game, but for us to just stick with it and the dugout never changed," Harker said. "That's different than how we've been for the past eight games. They never started pointing at each other and stayed positive."

It was just second pitching appearance since Feb. 24 for Crawford, who allowed six runs in 2/3 of an inning in his last outing at Wichita State. On Wednesday, Crawford (1-1) fired two scoreless, hitless innings. He had three walks and two strikeouts. Crawford followed Jordan Beatson, who allowed one hit and no runs in 2 1/3 innings. Beatson had three walks and four strikeouts.

"Tyler Kimbrell (who leads Furman in saves) is sick and wasn't even at the ballpark. (Heath) Hawkins' shoulder got tight," Harker said. "We had to bring in Crawford, who ended up doing the most with that opportunity."

Crawford was one of a few Paladins who took advantage of their chance to contribute Wednesday. Costa caught his first game of the season, which opened the door for Mihalik at designated hitter. In addition to the homer, Mihalik also had a double in his four at-bats.

When Crawford left third base to pitch, Furman lost the DH as Dillon Love entered the game. Love had a key single to set up Richards' grand slam.

The Paladins return to Southern Conference action this weekend, traveling to preseason favorite Mercer. Game 1 of the three-game series is scheduled for Friday at 6 p.m.

"If you asked me the best scenario going to Mercer, it wouldn't be going down 10 (runs). But in doing that, it showed that we're not out of any games," Harker said. "It showed that we can hit again. It showed that the bullpen can get big outs. So many things happened because of that deficit.
"The boys believe in themselves again and that's the biggest thing. When you've lost eight in a row, you've just got to go win a game and they did just that in a fashion that's pretty exciting."

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