Saturday, May 25, 2019

ETSU's late rally eliminates Paladins

Freshman Mason Kenney took a no-hitter into the sixth inning Friday, but ETSU
rallied for a 7-5 win to end Furman's season. Photo courtesy of Furman
One day after wasting a solid effort by a starting pitcher by blowing a fairly comfortable lead, Furman did so again Friday night at the Southern Conference Tournament. Unlike in Thursday's win over Western Carolina, there was no late counterpunch by the Paladins this time.

ETSU scored six runs over the final three innings, including three in the ninth, to knock out Furman by a score of 7-5. A Furman team that struggled with fundamentals quite a bit in 2019 before playing its best baseball down the stretch, had some of those same struggles reappear this week at Fluor Field in seeing its season end at 26-31.

The Paladins held a 5-1 lead through six innings before ETSU (34-20) scored two runs in the seventh and a controversial run in the eighth to cut the lead to 5-4 going to the ninth.

A pair of singles and a hit batter loaded the bases for the Buccaneers with one out for leadoff man Cullen Smith. After falling behind 0-2, Smith hit a groundball to first that looked to give Furman a chance at a game-ending double play. But Jared Mihalik, who's been solid this year after being pressed into duty at first base for the first time, couldn't field it cleanly. The ball trickled into right and a pair of runs scored to give ETSU a 6-5 lead.

The Bucs added an insurance run one batter later. Logan Taplett, who's been spectacular manning the hot corner lately, fielded a grounder and stepped on third for one out. His throw to first to try to complete the double play went low and wide as ETSU pushed the lead to 7-5.

After committing a total of seven errors over 10 games in May to end the regular season, the Paladins had eight in their three games at the SoCon Tournament.

Furman faced ETSU starter Daniel Sweeney, who entered Friday with a record of 6-3 with a 3.21 ERA. He had 70 strikeouts and just 12 walks in 73 innings this season. But against the strikeout-prone Paladins he only had one K in his five innings of work. Furman actually matched its season-low with a total of three whiffs on the night.

The Paladins took a 2-0 lead in the first on Trent Alley's RBI-double - his fourth two-bagger of the tournament - and Dax Roper's RBI-single. Taplett's sac fly in the third pushed the lead to 3-0.

Meanwhile, freshman Mason Kenney was mowing down ETSU. The lone Buc to reach base over the first five innings came on a two-out walk in the third. ETSU broke up the no-hitter when Cade Gilbert led off the sixth with a single. He later scored on a sac fly to cut the lead to 3-1, but Furman answered in the bottom of the sixth on Mihalik's two-run double with two out.

After Kenney had a strikeout to start the seventh, nothing went right for the Paladins the rest of the way. The next three batters reached via a single, a Furman error, and a run-scoring double that ended Kenney's night at a career-high 92 pitches. A wild pitch plated another run in the seventh to cut the lead to 5-3.

In the bottom of the seventh, Furman's Bret Huebner was hit by a pitch leading off the inning. He took second on a wild pitch before taking third on a sac bunt, but was left stranded there.

Then came the eighth, which Smith led off for ETSU. Furman reliever Jordan Beatson jumped ahead of him 0-2 before delivering a pitch right down the middle of the plate. As the pitch was traveling home, Smith stepped out of the box as if he was given timeout. The home plate umpire raised up, but gave no signal. Furman coach Brett Harker vehemently argued for some explanation as to what just happened. After the umpires huddled, it was simply ruled a ball rather than a "no pitch," making it an unbelievably horrible call.

Smith ended up drawing a walk. After Beatson struck out the next two batters, David Beam singled to put Bucs on the corners. Beatson was then called for a balk allowing Smith to come home from third and cut the lead to 5-4.

In the bottom of the ninth, Furman got a pair of baserunners thanks to singles by Banks Griffith with one out and David Webel with two outs. Freshman Jordan Starkes, who entered as a defensive replacement for the hot-hitting Alley when the Paladins had the lead, grounded to short to end the game.

Kenney allowed three runs, two earned, on four hits in a career-long 6 1/3 innings. He had one walk and five strikeouts. Webel was the lone Paladin with more than one hit as he went 2-for-4 with two runs scored.

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