Valdosta Daily Times

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February 2, 2014

Blazers blast Bears in season opener

VALDOSTA — Other than a light mist that hung over Billy Grant Field the entire game, the 2014 season opener couldn’t have gone any better for Valdosta State baseball coach Greg Guilliams.

His Blazers overcame a sluggish start at the plate, Josh Mann and a host of relievers kept visiting Truett-McConnell hitless until the ninth inning, and nephew Casey Guilliams — the son of VSU assistant coach Todd Guilliams — got his first collegiate hit in that last frame as the Bears finally broke through in the 14-3 Blazer win.

Mann gave VSU, which completes the Comfort Suites Classic at 1 p.m. today against Georgia Southwestern, just what it needed in its opener. The left-hander  kept the Bears off-balanced for five innings as they didn’t come close to registering a hit in his five innings. After walking Cam Pearson with one out in the first, Mann retired the next eight batters he faced until Pearson walked again to open the fourth. Two outs later, Mann issued another walk to Johnathan Wilson before getting out of the jam. An inning later, Mann walked Guilliams as he finished his day with four walks and four strikeouts.

“Josh’s stuff was pretty good,” Greg Guilliams said. “I think he was a little disappointed with his off-speed stuff and he wasn’t able to throw it for strikes as much as he or I would have liked. But for the first time out, I agree, I thought he gave us a quality start.”

While Mann kept the Bears at bay, the Blazers’ offense caught fire in the third. After stranding runners in each of the first two innings, Jimmy Dowdell made sure VSU didn’t waste its third opportunity. With Matthew Fears and Bryant Hayman on with one out, Dowdell drilled a pitch deep to right field for a two-run triple before later scoring on a wild pitch.

“I thought our guys were really pressing at that start of that game,” Greg Guilliams added. “We were chasing some pitches, and our guys were really pressing.

“I thought when Jimmy came through with that hit, our guys relaxed and we started to do a lot more offensively.”

Two innings later, the Blazers broke the game open. With Dowdell, who had three hits with three runs and the two RBIs, on and two out, Truett-McConnell starter Wyatt Holloway appeared ready to give the Bears five solid innings as well. However, he then hit Michael Gouge before Matt Fitzsimmons reached on an error. Fitzsimmons also had three hits as VSU finished with 13

With the bases loaded, Truett-McConnell went to Cody Gable in relief and Clint Carr greeted the left-hander with a two-run single to right. Cooper Lemonds and Fears both drew walks to push across another run and Mike Reed then delivered a two-run single to make it 8-0 with five two-out runs.

“Most games are won with two-out base hits, so it was nice to see that,” Greg Guilliams said. “Hopefully, this will give the guys some confidence and help them relax a little bit.”

The Blazers tacked on six more runs in the fifth as Fitzsimmons, Carr and Dominique Smedley each had run-scoring singles before Casey Kicklighter blasted a three-run double.

Following Mann to the mound, Zakk White and Beau Blair continued to silence the Bears. However, Truett-McConnell finally broke through in the ninth. With one out and one on, Chris Carden singled into left field for the Bears’ first hit. P.D. Foster later added an RBI single and Tate Gaines drove in a run with a sacrifice fly. With two on and two outs, Guilliams then singled to right field for his first hit.

“Selfishly, I was really happy that I got to see his first college base hit,” Greg Guilliams said. “I was happy for Casey.”

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