Tuesday, March 10, 2020

Starkes catch caps series win for Paladins

Jordan Starkes' catch to rob Campbell of a home run in Furman's 8-2 win
Sunday made SportsCenter's top 10 plays. Photo courtesy of Furman
One of the many wonderful things about baseball is there's always tomorrow. Furman played about as rotten a game as you can play in all phases in an 13-3 loss to Campbell on Friday. On Saturday, the Paladins got up off the deck with a season-high offensive performance in a 14-6 win. Furman wrapped up the series in style with an 8-2 victory.

Sunday's win not only got the Paladins (8-8) back to .500 this season, it also gave them the series win over a Campbell program that has made the NCAA Tournament as Big South champions each of the past two seasons.

"It's probably the most proud I've ever been of a team responding. That was a low moment for us on Friday. That's as bad as we can play," Furman coach Brett Harker said after Sunday's game. "We went in that locker room (Friday) and talked about lots of things. I said, 'this is where we're at and this is what we're going to do to fix it.' Almost to a T - like drawing up a play on a football field, the guys executed everything that we talked about the last two days."

There were plenty of highlight reel plays and stellar performances by the Paladins, but none stood out more than a catch made by centerfielder Jordan Starkes in the eighth inning. According to ESPN, only one other play in the sports world was better Sunday. With Furman up 6-2 and one out in the top of the eighth, Starkes made an incredible leaping catch to his left and over the eight-foot wall in left-centerfield to rob Campbell's Collin Wolf of a two-run home run. The play made SportsCenter's top 10 plays on Sunday as the No. 2 selection.

The play should've resulted in a double play as the Campbell runner on first was already on second base as the ball came back to the infield. The Paladins tossed it to first, but it was ruled that the runner somehow tagged up on the catch and made it to second standing up. That didn't take away from the awesomeness of the catch, which also turned out to be a key one. The Camels went on to load the bases that inning before reliever Matt Lazzaro got a strikeout to escape the jam with no run scoring.

"It's got to be one of the top two or three plays I've seen in person," Harker said. "How the rest of that inning unfolded, it's a completely different ballgame if he doesn't make that catch.
"That kid has just made plays, had good at-bats and really stepped up for us. It feels like he's a junior or senior already and he's only a sophomore."

Starkes' catch ended up overshadowing another big play in the outfield Sunday. Furman led 4-2 in the top of the fifth when Campbell had a man on second and one out. The Camels' Waldy Arias him a fly ball to medium right field toward the line. Paladins rightfielder David Webel raced to his left to make the catch. Webel spun and fired a one-hop rocket to cut down the runner trying to advance to third, ending the inning with a 9-5 double play.

Outside of one error, Furman played flawless defense behind Lazzaro and starter Rob Hughes who also stood tall Sunday. Hughes didn't allow a baserunner over the first three innings and had six strikeouts that first time through the Campbell lineup. Hughes (2-1) allowed two runs on one hit in seven innings. The sophomore righthander from Rock Hill had three walks and seven strikeouts and threw 107 pitches. The Camels (6-9) got just one more hit in the final two innings off Lazzaro, who had one walk and two strikeouts.

"That might be the best I've seen (Saturday starter John Michael) Bertrand yesterday and Rob today. Those early strikeouts were impressive," Harker said. "I wanted to use Lazzaro today, but I didn't want him to go three innings. Rob being able to go the seventh and get through it quickly was big for us. ... He had swing-and-miss stuff today."

Offensively, Furman put up a crooked number four times Sunday. Banks Griffith had a two-run single in the second before Blake Brady blasted a two-run homer the next inning. It was the first home run in the Furman career of the Georgia Highlands transfer who played high school baseball at J.L. Mann. Logan Taplett had a two-run single in the fifth and MJ Sasapan capped the scoring with a two-run single in the eighth.

Taplett went 3-for-4, while Webel and Sasapan had two hits apiece.

Furman returns to action Tuesday against Quinnipiac at Latham Stadium. First pitch is scheduled for 6 p.m. It's the lone midweek game this week before the Paladins host College of Charleston this weekend.

"Tuesday's the biggest game of the season for us," Harker said. "Are we going to continue to grow and keep that energy rolling into the weekend, or are we going to be complacent with where we're at? That's my challenge to these boys."

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