The Georgia Highlands Chargers baseball team took on the South Georgia State College Hawks this week in a pivotal 4 game GCAA conference series. The Hawks, who have been ranked as high as #18 in the NJCAA poll this year and have made numerous NJCAA district tournaments in the past few years, were picked by most to win the GCAA this season and came into the week having won 6 of their last 7 games.
Jake Lovvorn took the mound for the Chargers in game 1 of the series, and the big lefty held the Hawks at bay, scattering 9 hits in 7 innings while allowing 1 just run. Lovvorn walked just 1 batter and struck out 2 to earn his 3rd win of the season. Bradley Hood was excellent in relief, fanning 3 in 2 perfect innings of work to close out the game for GHC. Caleb McElwaney and Jonathan White both had 3 hits in the game, and Grant Bodison and Miguel Urbina both drove in a pair of runs in the 6-1 victory.
After taking the opener at home on Tuesday, the Chargers made the long trek down to Douglas, GA to play the final 3 games of the series this weekend. On Friday, the wheels fell off early after a defensive miscue and a shaky start by Matthew Norton put the Chargers in a 5-0 hole in the first inning, and for the second time in as many weeks, GHC skipper Dash O’Neill was forced to go to the bullpen in the first inning of a ballgame. From the second inning on, the Chargers controlled the game and outscored the Hawks 6-4, but they never managed to capture the lead. Kyle Brady, Alex Holdbrooks, and Sean Fitzpatrick did a great job coming out of the pen to keep GHC in the game, and the Highlands offense tallied 12 hits, including 2 by Devin Bilardello that drove in 3 runs. The Chargers were able to get the tying run to the plate in the 9th, but Caleb McElwaney’s smash into the gap was caught to end the game and even the series at 1-1.
Georgia Highlands sent Colby Taylor to the mound on Saturday for the first game of the afternoon doubleheader, and the right-hander benefitted from some early run support. The Chargers jumped out to a 3 run lead after Brandon Bell drove in a run in the 2nd inning and Nick Fink plated 2 more in the 4th. The Hawks answered with a pair of runs in their half of the 4th, but Britt Buckelew retired the only hitter he faced to kill the South Georgia Rally, and Sam Sowerbrower only allowed 2 baserunners over the final 3 innings to earn his second save of the year. The GHC offense exploded for 5 runs in the 5th, and the Chargers rolled to a decisive 8-2 win.
Despite starting the final game of the series with some momentum, the Chargers quickly found themselves in a hole when they failed to corral a two-out pop up in the first inning. The Hawks used that mistake to take a 1-0 lead in the first, before plating 2 more in the 2nd and another 3 in the 3rd to chase GHC starter Drew Wilson. GHC did manage to put together a 3 run rally in the top of the 3rd inning, but the Charger bats were quiet for most of the game. South Georgia would only be able to scrape together 1 more run off of relievers Tyler Sellers, Ryan Bramlett, and Britt Buckelew, but with a 7-3 lead going into the 7th and final inning, it looked like the Chargers would walk away with their 3rd consecutive GCAA series split.
That all changed when Caleb McElwaney smashed a double into the right-center gap to get things started for the Chargers in the final frame. Jonathan White followed McElwaney’s smash with possibly the best at-bat of the season for GHC, fouling off 8 pitches before hammering the 13th pitch he saw into left field for an RBI single. Devin Bilardello was then hit by a pitch to bring the tying run to the plate in the form of sophomore Matthew Vaccaro. The Charger cleanup hitter answered the bell and blasted a 1-1 pitch over the left field wall for his 4th home run of the season to even the score at 7-7. Having used the long ball to tie the game, the Chargers would use the short game to take the lead. Nick Piccapietra beat out an infield single to get GHC back on base. Jake Ferentinos executed a perfect sacrifice bunt to advance Piccapietra to second base and Brandon Bell singled to right field to put runners on the corners for freshman Justin Stroud. Stroud did his job, hitting an RBI ground ball to score the go ahead run. Britt Buckelew sat down the Hawks in order to finish the game and earn the win.
Georgia Highlands improves to 27-14 on the season and 7-5 in GCAA action. They will be back in action on Monday for a non-conference doubleheader against Shorter University at 3PM at LakePoint.