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February 21, 2013

Hayman’s walk-off double gives Blazers win

VALDOSTA — Bryant Hayman’s two-out RBI double in the bottom of the ninth gave Valdosta State’s baseball team a 4-3 win over Columbus State on Wednesday night at Billy Grant Field.

With two outs in the ninth and Dan Hoover on second, Columbus State pitcher Matthew Kuhlenberg (0-1) got two strikes on Hayman, the Blazers’ cleanup hitter. With an 0-2 count, he tried to throw a pitch on the outside part of the plate. But Hayman jumped on the pitch and drove it into right field.

The ball headed for the right field corner, and by the time the right fielder got to it, Hoover was crossing home plate to score the winning run.

Hoover had singled to left with one out in the ninth and stolen second. One out later, Hayman doubled him in.

The win improved Valdosta State’s record to 6-2.

“We haven’t played in 10 or 11 days, and to come out and get a win, I thought, was really good for our guys’ minds,” Valdosta State coach Greg Guilliams said.

Early on, it was a back-and-forth game. Columbus State and Valdosta State both scored one run in the first inning and two runs in the third. After that, the game became a scoreless duel between the teams’ bullpens.

Columbus State’s J.D. Pullen started the game with a single to left and went to third on Jimmy Obermark’s single to right. One out later, Cameron Scott grounded to second, and Pullen scored to give the Cougars a 1-0 lead.

Valdosta State answered with a run in the bottom half of the first. Jake Montgomery led off with a double down the left field line, and scored when Hoover followed with another double to left.

Columbus State regained the lead in the top of the third. With one out, Obermark doubled down the left field line and went to third on Ryan Lewis’ infield single. Lewis was picked off by VSU pitcher Nick Fogarty, but two pitches later, Obermark stole home to give his team a 2-1 lead. Two walks and an error loaded the bases, then Jackson Oliver drew a bases loaded walk, and Scott jogged home to make it 3-1.

The Blazers responded again in their half of the third. Matthew Fears and Jamie McMillan singled, then advanced on a wild pitch. With one out, Nick Rodda grounded out to short, but Fears scored. Then Michael Gouge hit a ground ball to third, but the throw to first was off the mark, and McMillan scored to tie the game at 3-3.

“Every time they scored, we scored,” Guilliams said. “They scored in the first, we scored in the first. They scored two in the third, and we came right back and answered. So they were never able to get any momentum going.”

After the third inning, Guilliams and Columbus State head coach Greg Appleton took out their starting pitchers and went to their bullpens. And the bullpens responded. For the next five innings, they posted zeroes on the scoreboard, and kept the score tied 3-3 until the bottom of the ninth.

Valdosta State’s Josh Mann and Columbus State’s Jake Ezell took the mound in the fourth inning, and threw three scoreless innings each. Mann gave up three hits and struck out four, while Ezell limited VSU to one hit and struck out three. In the seventh inning, Dom Demasi took the mound for VSU, while Kuhlenberg came out of the bullpen for the Cougars. Demasi pitched 2 1/3 innings of relief, allowing two hits and striking out four, before giving way to Benjamin Weil (1-0), who got the final two outs in the top of the ninth. Kuhlenberg allowed just two hits and struck out five in 2 2/3 innings, but ultimately gave up the winning run.

“(Our) bullpen obviously was pretty special,” Guilliams said. “Those guys really stepped up. Nick Fogarty isn’t going to have many games like that. Tonight happened to be one of them, and he needed some help. (Mann, Demasi and Weil) were ready. That was a big lift for us. ... (Columbus State’s pitchers also) pitched well.”

“Hall of Fame pitcher Bob Lemon said this, ‘The two best things in life are good friends and a good bullpen,’ and tonight proved that,” the Blazers’ coach added.

Hayman and Hoover both went 2 for 5 and drove in a run for the Blazers on Wednesday. Columbus State’s Aaron Jividen was 4 for 4, while both Pullen and Obermark had two hits and scored a run.

Fogarty made his first start for Valdosta State since pitching a perfect game on Feb. 9 against Paine College. He wasn’t as sharp this time, giving up three runs, two earned, and six hits in three innings.

“He just didn’t have his best stuff, and you could kind of see that. He could have gone longer, but with all the rest we’ve had, our bullpen was healthy,” Guilliams said.

Valdosta State will host a four-game series against Wayne State this weekend. The teams will play a doubleheader on Friday, beginning at 3:30 p.m., then will play games at 2 p.m. on Saturday and 1 p.m. on Sunday.

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