Valdosta Daily Times

Local Sports

April 22, 2013

Blazers complete sweep

VALDOSTA — For the third time in around 24 hours, Valdosta State’s baseball team came from behind to defeat Union on Sunday afternoon.

Michael Gouge’s two-run double in the bottom of the seventh drove in the go-ahead runs and helped the Blazers win 7-5 and complete a three-game sweep of the Bulldogs at Billy Grant Field.

“I think those were three come-from-behind wins,” Valdosta State head coach Greg Guilliams said. “It’s hard to sweep anybody, I don’t care what their conference record is.”

The Blazers (26-14) had fallen behind 3-0 in the first inning. They rallied to tie the score in the third, then took a 5-3 lead with two runs in the fourth. Union scored twice in the top of the seventh and tied the score again, 5-5.

But the Blazers answered in the bottom of the seventh. With one out, Bryant Hayman hit a line drive inside the third base bag and down the left field line. He rounded first, kept running and beat the throw to second for a double. Jake Fields walked on a full count, putting two men on and bringing Gouge to the plate.

Gouge jumped on the first pitch and ripped a shot into left field. The ball landed a few feet inside the left field line and rolled all the way to the fence. Hayman scored, and Fields came home right behind him, giving the Blazers a 7-5 lead.

“(Gouge) really swung the bat well,” Guilliams said. “I was happy for him.”

Valdosta State’s bullpen had been superb in the Blazers’ doubleheader sweep on Saturday, throwing five scoreless innings, and in the final two innings on Sunday, they were lights out again. Ben Watson (2-1), who escaped a two-out, bases-loaded jam in the top of the seventh, pitched a 1-2-3 eighth. Then senior submariner Benjamin Weil, the winning pitcher in both games of Saturday’s doubleheader sweep, took the mound in the ninth and closed out the win for his fourth save of the year.

“Benjamin Weil picked up two wins and a save this weekend. He is ‘Every Day Ben,’” Guilliams said about Weil, who has pitched in 27 of the Blazers’ 40 games. “I go walking out in the ninth inning, and I go up to the umpire to tell him I’m bringing Ben in. And before I could say a word, he goes, ‘(Number) 35, right?’ I said, ‘Yeah.’”

Union jumped out to a 3-0 lead with three runs in the first inning. With one out, Colton Speed walked, stole second and scored on Hunter Smith’s two-out infield single. Kody Pinson followed with a single to center, driving in Cole McAdams. Then John Reed hit the Bulldogs’ third straight RBI single, this one to right field, bringing home Smith to give Union an early three-run lead.

Valdosta State scored its first run in the bottom of the first. Nick Rodda walked, then Fields hit a two-out double, putting runners on second and third. Gouge singled to left, scoring Rodda and making it 3-1.

Two innings later, the Blazers tied the score. With one out, Hunter Thompson reached on an error, stole second and went to third on Hayman’s single. Fields hit a ground ball to short. Hayman was forced out at second, but Thompson scored. Fields stole second, then Gouge ripped a double to left, driving in Fields and tying the score at 3-3.

The Blazers took their first lead of the game in the bottom of the fourth. Leading off the inning, Jamie McMillan hit a solo home run to put his team on top, 4-3. Ryan McClellan doubled down the left field line and was bunted to third by Dan Hoover. Then Rodda hit a fly ball to right, and McClellan tagged up and scored, giving Valdosta State a 5-3 lead.

After the three-run first inning, VSU starter Jeremy Holcomb shut out Union for the next five innings, allowing just three more hits. But the junior left-hander departed after six innings, 10 strikeouts and 112 pitches, and Union rallied in the top of the seventh against reliever Josh Mann.

With Jim Martin on first and one out in the top of the seventh, singles by McAdams and Smith loaded the bases. Mann struck out Pinson for the second out, but hit Reed in the back with a pitch, which forced in a run. Then McAdams ran home on a wild pitch, tying the score at 5-5. Zach Wylie walked, reloading the bases. The left-handed Mann threw two strikes to Justin Bryan, then Guilliams pulled him and brought in the right-handed Watson to try to get the third strike. Bryan fouled off some pitches and worked the count full, but then Watson blew a fastball by him for strike three, ending the inning.

Then Gouge hit his two-run double in the bottom half of the inning, and gave the Blazers the lead for good.

Hayman had a couple of hits and Fields scored a couple of runs for VSU. Holcomb pitched six innings and gave up three runs and six hits, and struck out 10.

“Jeremy Holcomb struggled that first inning, but he came back and settled down and pitched a good ball game,” Guilliams said.

Smith went 3 for 5 for Union and Pinson was 2 for 5. Both of them drove in a run. Reed had two RBIs. Starting pitcher Benjie Fesmire gave up five runs, three earned, and six hits in six innings. Reliever Cody Cunningham (2-4) took the loss, after giving up VSU’s two seventh-inning runs.

“I don’t know what their overall record is, but they looked like a better team than that to me,” Guilliams said about the Bulldogs, who are 9-31 this year. “They showed up to play. I’ll give them credit for that. It wasn’t easy.”

Valdosta State now has a 12-9 record in Gulf South Conference play. The Blazers will host Columbus State on Wednesday at 5 p.m. in a non-conference game, then they will battle Delta State, the No. 2 team in Division II, next weekend in a three-game series at Billy Grant Field.

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