MONTGOMERY, Alabama – Georgia Southern used four hits in the very first inning to take the lead, and the Eagles were just starting to warm up their sticks.
Christian Avant hit a three-run homer in the fifth, his third hit of the game, and teammate Parker Biederer added a two-run shot an inning later as second-seeded Georgia Southern picked up a win of 7-1 over App State on Friday in the second quarterfinal of the Guardian Credit Union Sun Belt Baseball Championship presented by Troy University.
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The Eagles (39-17) had five more hits in a 12-hit offense before advancing to Saturday’s opening semifinal at 3 p.m. against Troy.
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“It’s always good anytime,” Eagle coach Rodney Hennon said of the lead, “but in a tournament context, the first game, especially after sitting out as much as anything the world the last few days. Jumping and getting an early momentum was great.
That offense was played by Avant, who hit an RBI double and scored in the first before launching his fifth-inning outburst after Jesse Sherrill and Jason Swan had a one-out single.
“I’m on deck and just thinking about Swan, get up and take a hit here and put me at home plate,” Avant said. “I thought we were hitting the balls hard at first, it’s frustrating when they don’t drop. The big swing there, that kind of thing allows everyone to calm down and release frustration and get us on set and kind of relax the team.
App State, which beat Little Rock 10-3 in an opener on Tuesday, narrowed the margin to 2-1 in the top of the second on Hayden Cross’ first single and RJ Johnson’s RBI ground ball. However, the Mountaineers (20-33) left two on base this inning and left 10 runners stranded in a five-inning streak.
“We’ve had situations where we’re one shot away from tying it or maybe pushing the lead a bit,” App State coach Kermit Smith said. “We were just unable to capitalize on some base runners, but hats off to them, they made us not capitalize. The guys they put on the mound were a really good game against our roster.
Starting pitcher Ty Fisher and relievers Jay Thompson (7-3) and Anthony DiMola combined to limit the Mountaineers to six singles while stoking four. Fisher allowed five hits but failed five runners, and Thompson came in fifth after Luke Drumheller walked and Andrew Greckel was hit by a pitch to start the inning.
Thompson persuaded a fly ball from Cross, then got two more quick outs. DiMola retired all six Mountaineer batters he faced in the past two innings.
“I didn’t think it was his best thing today,” Hennon said of Fisher, “but he has a knack for fighting and keeping you in a ball game and giving you a chance to win. He wasn’t as snappy as he normally is, but he sort of gutted it. He’s not a batter, but he’s got a lot of soft contact and that’s where is the most effective.
“They had Cross who he (Thompson) came up against, I watched him for a few years and he always gives them good hard shots. It was a big takedown in the ball game in that situation.
Swan and Avant had back-to-back doubles against App State starter Trey Tujetsch (3-5) and Noah Ledford followed with a hit down the field, as well as an obstruction call that provided the second inning. In the sixth, the Eagles added insurance runs when Sam Blancato hit a one-out single and Biederer followed with his third homer of the year.
“We’re talking about Christian’s big home run,” Hennon said, “but Parker Biederer’s home run to extend that lead late, I thought was huge.”