Columbus State baseball coach Greg Appleton’s bold move paid off with a 4-3 victory over Georgia College on Saturday in the Peach Belt Conference tournament at Sparrow Field.
Appleton turned to Luke Porter to start on the mound for the first time against a PBC opponent. The move paid huge dividends as Porter (6-0) pitched a complete game, earning the fifth-ranked Cougars a berth in the tournament championship game on Sunday against Lander at 1 p.m.
“Coach called me last night at 6 to tell me I would start today,” Porter said. “I got a lot of outs with my slider, which was probably my best pitch today. I felt strong at the end of the game but lost some command of my fastball in the ninth inning.”
Porter made four previous starts, all in mid-week games, none with the importance of Saturday’s game. He replaced Caleb Kutsche, who had been the Cougars’ No. 3 starter in PBC series. Kutsche had given up 17 runs in 11 2/3 innings in his last three starts.
“Just another gritty performance by this team,” CSU coach Greg Appleton said. “This team never takes no for an answer and a different player has stepped up in each game for us. Luke just kept pounding the strike zone and was in a rhythm the entire game.
“We are excited to be playing for the title tomorrow, and we just have to keep our energy level up against a very talented Lander team.”
CSU (41-12) jumped ahead in the second inning. Blake Edwards reached on a bunt and Matt Nettles singled up the middle. After a sacrifice bunt, Hunter Bowling laid down a safety squeeze, allowing Edwards to score.
The Cougars added a run in the third. Ryan Ihle hit a triple to deep left-center. Walks to Mike McClellan, Edwards and Nettles forced in a run.
The Bobcats (33-12) scored both of its runs in the fifth.
But CSU responded in the bottom of the fifth. McClellan was hit by a pitch, and Christian Miller doubled. Edwards hit a soft fly into center field that dropped allowing McClellan to score for a 3-2 lead. Nettles drove in the next run with a sacrifice fly.
The Bobcats scored one in the ninth before Porter finished the game.
With the win, CSU finished in a three-way tie with North Georgia and Georgia College at 2-1 in Pool A. Since the teams went 1-1 against the other two, the next tiebreaker was winning percentage in regular-season PBC games. CSU won the PBC regular-season title, so it won the tiebreaker.
Lander, which won Pool B, won 2-of-3 games in a series at CSU in mid-March.
Adding importance to Sunday’s championship game is the seeding for the NCAA Division II Southeast Regional. The top seed will host the seven-team regional next week and receive a first-round bye. In the latest rankings, which were released Wednesday, Lander was first with CSU second.
Peach Belt tournament
The format for the Peach Belt Conference tournament is pool play. The eight teams are broken into two pools. Each team will play the other three teams in its pool.
The winners of the pools, Columbus State and Lander, will play in the championship game on Sunday at 1 p.m.
Pool A has Columbus State, Georgia College, Augusta and North Georgia. Pool B has Lander, USC Aiken, Montevallo and Flagler.
- North Georgia 7, Columbus State 6
- Lander 13, Flagler 3
- Georgia College 9, Augusta 4
- Montevallo 15, USC Aiken 9
- Georgia College 4, North Georgia 2
- Columbus State vs. Augusta, ppd., rain
- Columbus State 3, Augusta 2
- Lander 6, Montevallo 5
- North Georgia 3, Augusta 1
- Flagler 5, USC Aiken 4
- Columbus State 4, Georgia College 3
- Flagler vs. Montevallo
- USC Aiken vs. Lander