Georgia Southern spoils Stricklin's debut

February 15, 2014 

ATHENS, Ga.- Georgia used a strong offensive performance consisting of 11 hits to even up the series against Georgia Southern with an 11-3 victory in the second game of a doubleheader on Saturday afternoon at Foley Field.

Attendance for today’s games reached 3,494 fans, which marks a record crowd in a season opener since Foley Field was renovated in 1990.

After dropping the first game of the doubleheader earlier this afternoon by a score of 9-3, the Bulldogs (1-1) exploded offensively the second time around, in addition to enjoying a strong outing on the mound from sophomore starter Ryan Lawlor.

“That’s not the way we wanted to start in Game One,” said Georgia coach Scott Stricklin. “I have to credit their pitcher, Sam Howard, because he kept us off balance. However I was pleased to see us bounce back in Game Two and respond the way we did. Baseball is a game where you can bounce back in a hurry, and Ryan Lawlor gave us a great start in that second game. We got guys on base, we were able to put some pressure on them, and that’s something we weren’t able to do in Game One.”

In his first career start as a Bulldog after transferring from Middle Georgia, Lawlor gave up just five hits and three earned runs while striking out three over six innings en route to earning the win. Starter Josh Wirsu took the loss for the Eagles (1-1) after surrendering four hits and six earned runs through two innings of work.

Junior left fielder Hunter Cole finished the day going a combined 6-for-9 at the plate with three runs scored, a pair of RBIs and a pair of doubles. Fellow outfielder Conor Welton went 3-for-5 in the second game of the doubleheader with two runs scored and a stolen base.

Junior shortstop Nelson Ward went a combined 3-for-7 on the day, including five runs scored, three RBIs, a home run, a stolen base and a walk. Jess Posey also put together a stellar offensive showing in the first two games of the series, turning in three RBIs and drawing a walk.

Defensively, the Bulldogs committed just one error on the day through 18 innings of play.

“I was encouraged that we played good defense,” said Stricklin. “We knew Nelson would do a good job at shortstop. He’s a great baseball player, and you can play him anywhere.”

Freshman Michael Bell was projected to start at shortstop for Georgia before suffering a broken hand in practice. As a result, Ward earned his first career start at shortstop today after spending his first two seasons with the Bulldogs at second base.

Freshman Stephen Wrenn led off the game with his first career base hit and stole both second and third base before Ward blasted a one-out, two-run home run over the right field fence to give the Bulldogs a 2-0 lead. The homer was the third of Ward’s career and first of this season for the Marietta, Ga, native.

Later in the inning, Cole and Posey continued their productivity at the plate with a single to left and a walk, respectively. A walk by Daniel Nichols on the ensuing at bat prompted an errant throw by the catcher, allowing Cole to score from third. One batter later, freshman Skyler Weber notched a two-RBI single in his collegiate debut to score Posey and Nichols and extend the Bulldogs’ lead to 5-0.

Georgia continued to add to its lead in the second inning after batting around in the first. Wrenn drew a walk to reach base for the second time of the afternoon and reached third following a groundout and a stolen base. Ward notched a fielder’s choice RBI to plate Wrenn from third, and Ward would eventually come around to score following a two-out error by the catcher, putting the Bulldogs in front 7-0.

Lawlor recorded 10 straight outs from the first to the fourth inning before Chase Griffin drew a two-out walk in the fourth to break the streak. Ryan Cleveland then sent an RBI double into left to score Griffin for the Eagles’ first run of the game.

The Bulldogs continued their scoring streak in the bottom of the fourth, adding two runs on RBIs from Cole and Posey that plated Welton and Ward, respectively. Welton reached base earlier in the frame with a one-out single to left before stealing second and advancing to third on an error. Ward then drew a walk before Cole sent an RBI single to left and Posey followed with an RBI groundout to second, extending Georgia’s lead to 9-1.

After a scoreless fifth inning by both teams, Welton led off the sixth with a single to third and eventually came around to score on an RBI double to right field by Cole. Cole advanced to third on a wild pitch before scoring on an RBI groundout to second by Posey as Georgia led 11-1.

After the first two batters of the seventh inning reached base for the Eagles, junior Jared Cheek entered the game in relief for the Bulldogs. Georgia Southern pushed two runs across in the inning, both of which were charged to Lawlor.

Cheek surrendered no hits and no runs over the seventh and eighth innings while recording one strikeout. Freshman right-hander Robert Tyler took the mound in the ninth inning for the first time of his collegiate career, retiring all three batters he faced to preserve the 11-3 win for the Bulldogs.

The decisive third and final game of the series will be played tomorrow afternoon at Foley Field with first pitch set for 1 p.m.

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