Sunday, May 19, 2019

Jones helps Paladins top Bears, earn No. 5 seed

Furman's Rutty Jones made his first career start a memorable
one against Mercer on Saturday. Photo courtesy of Furman
For the past four years, Rutty Jones has typically spent his collegiate baseball career looking on from the Furman dugout. Senior Days aren't typical though. They're special. Jones had no idea how special his would turn out to be when he arrived at Latham Stadium Saturday.

After being honored along with seven teammates in pregame Senior Day festivities, Jones had to quickly focus on a new task. Jones, who had logged a grand total of 21 1/3 innings in his career prior to Saturday, was given the ball to make his first career start.

"I was setting up BP for the 1,000th time that I've been here and coach came up to me and said, 'I think I'm going to give you the start. I'll give you the first batter.' I said, 'coach, I kind of want more than the first batter if you don't mind.' He said, 'if you get the first guy out, you get the next guy,' " Jones said. "I walked the first guy so I figured I was done. He looked and me and gave me this look like just to keep going."

Tasked with starting the rubber game against a Mercer team that had gone 10-2 in its previous 12 Southern Conference games, Jones rose to the occasion. While the Furman bullpen stayed active from the start, Jones just kept getting the Bears out. After that leadoff walk, Jones got a 6-4-3 double play three pitches later. He made it through the lineup unscathed before departing with two out in the third. Only an unturned double play in the second prevented him from three scoreless innings.

"I got lucky and my guys behind me helped me out," Jones said. "It was just an unbelievable day."

After getting knocked around a bit upon relieving Jones, Mason Kenney settled down over the middle three innings while Furman built a lead. Three more relievers protected that lead over the final three innings and it all added up to a 5-3 win.

The outing was Jones' fourth scoreless one in five appearances this year and matched a career long of 2 2/3 innings. After entering this season with a career ERA of 16.53, Jones' ERA this year fell to 3.52 Saturday.

"Rutty was supposed to go one hitter and then he made it one of the toughest decisions I've ever made," Furman coach Brett Harker said. "He's got a torn labrum and is having surgery after the season. He had just done something so awesome, I just thought it would cool for him to walk off the field (alone) instead of getting that third out.
"There's certain things in sports that happen that are just a little more special and that was one of them."

The victory gave the Paladins their fourth consecutive SoCon series win and secured a fifth-place finish in the league standings. Furman (25-29, 13-11) will have a rematch with Mercer to open SoCon Tournament play on Wednesday. The Paladins will take on the fourth-seeded Bears at approximately 12:30 p.m. at Fluor Field.

Rutty Jones (36), Eric Taylor (26), John Michael Boswell (8), Bret Huebner
(3), Jabari Richards (6), Nik Verbeke (21) and David Dunlavey (16)
stand with their families in pregame Senior Day festivities Saturday.
Furman took a 1-0 lead in the second when Jordan Starkes started Saturday like he finished Friday's walkoff win - with an RBI-single. Mercer (29-26, 14-10) got four consecutive hits off Kenney in the third to take a 2-1 lead. Kenney (2-1) allowed no runs and just two hits over the next three innings to pick up the win on his 19th birthday.

Speaking of birthdays, it was Brooks Robinson's 82nd birthday Saturday and Logan Taplett did his best imitation of the greatest defensive third baseman ever. Taplett made three incredible plays to rob the Bears of hits. He fielded a wicked hop down the third-base line and fired to first for the out before making a leaping catch of a line drive in the sixth and a diving catch of a liner in the eighth.

"Logan Taplett made some plays that you don't expect anybody to make and he made all of them," Harker said. "It was pretty impressive to see what he did for us."

Jones added, "It's crazy to think that guy (Taplett) was a catcher even this year at some points. He saved us run after run after run today."

Trailing 2-1 in the fourth, Furman scored a pair of runs to take a lead it never relinquished. Jared Mihalik led off with a single, stole second and later came home on David Webel's grounder with the bases loaded. A throwing error on the play sent Bret Huebner home with the go-ahead run.

After two outs to begin the bottom of the fifth, the Paladins loaded the bases for Huebner, who laid down a perfect bunt. That scored Taplett to make it 4-2. Jordan Beatson blanked Mercer on one hit over the next two innings before senior John Michael Boswell delivered a two-out RBI-single in the bottom of the eighth for a big insurance run.

In the top of the ninth, senior Eric Taylor got a pair of outs but a pair of walks brought Mercer No. 2 hitter Angelo DiSpigna to the plate at the potential tying run. Harker went against "the book" and walked DiSpigna, who entered Saturday with 12 home runs and 37 RBIs. That call was easier to make when it loaded the bases for Zach Miller rather than Kel Johnson. Miller entered as a pinch-runner in the eighth for Johnson, who leads the SoCon in homers (21) and RBIs (60).

Senior Nik Verbeke came on and quickly got ahead of Miller with a pair of swinging strikes. But his 2-2 pitch hit Miller to cut the lead to 5-3. Verbeke got the next batter to fly out to right to end the threat and collect the first save of his Furman career.

"I knew (putting the tying run on base) was the right thing to do and it was still hard to do it. Then we hit the guy and now that tying run's at second and I put him on there," Harker said. "At that point, you've just got to go with your gut and it worked out."

Webel, Mihalik and Banks Griffith had two hits apiece to lead Furman, which will carry plenty of momentum into the SoCon Tournament. From April 16 to the end of the regular season, the Paladins went 13-6, including 8-4 in conference play.

"What a big series for us. We just faced back-to-back No. 2 teams in the conference (Wofford last weekend) and for us to win our fourth (SoCon) series in a row, I'm just really, really proud of this group," Harker said. "It means we're headed in the right direction."

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