Special to The Times-Georgian
The University of West Georgia baseball team endured a tough trip to south Georgia for a Gulf South Conference series versus rival Valdosta State Sunday and Monday.
The Wolves fell on the short end of the stick in all three games, dropping a 7-6 decision in walk-off fashion Sunday before suffering 11-3 and 4-3 setbacks Monday at Grant Field.
The Wolves (14-19, 13-17 GSC) got off to an ominous start in Sunday’s 7-6 setback with the Blazers (20-12, 18-11) scoring three runs on three hits, two walks and an error in the opening inning, chasing UWG freshman starter Jack Rasmussen by the second.
West Georgia received a tremendous lift from sophomore Ezra Brown, who came on in relief and kept the Wolves in the contest. The Temple High School product delivered 5.1 innings of work, allowing one run on four hits with one walk and seven strikeouts.
“Ezra came in and gave us an outstanding effort. He put up some zeroes there to give us a chance. We got ourselves back in the game. Just a typical series between us and Valdosta,” UWG head coach Jeff Smith said. “Ezra was commanding his pitches and his change-up was working well. He was able to keep them off-balance, which led to some short innings and he was able to effectively locate the baseball.”
Trailing 4-0 after two innings, the UWG bats came alive courtesy of a familiar theme as senior standout Dan Oberst extended his hitting streak to 21 games on an RBI double and came around to score on an RBI base knock by senior catcher Lane Griffith to cut the lead in half.
Brown wiggled out of a bases-loaded jam in the home half of the fourth and Oberst dwindled the deficit down to one on a solo blast in the seventh, his 15th home run of the season.
“Dan came up big there hitting that home run. Their starter threw a lot of pitches and we were able to get out there and get into the bullpen,” Smith said.
VSU’s E.J. Doskow connected on a pinch-hit home run in the bottom of the seventh, but the Wolves answered with three runs in the top of the eighth to take their first lead of the game at 6-5.
Griffith started the rally with a leadoff walk and junior shortstop Joseph Hill reached on an error. A bunt single by junior center fielder Jason Fointno loaded the bases with no outs, but Blazer reliever Jakob Barker came in and recorded back-to-back outs before a fielding error on a ball hit by UWG junior left fielder Ethan Brant knotted the game up at 5-all. In the next at-bat, junior shortstop Cody Mish put the Wolves ahead by stroking an RBI single.
The Blazers pulled even on a one-out, RBI single by designated hitter David Mayberry in the eighth and pulled off the comeback on a two-out, walk-off single from catcher Jacob Harper in the ninth.
Oberst (2-for-4, 2 SB, 2B, HR, 2 runs, 2 RBI) and Griffith (2-for-4, BB, RBI) paced the Wolves offensively in the series opener.
The Wolves suffered the eight-run setback in Monday’s opener as the UWG offense stranded 13 base-runners while the Blazers used the long ball to power their attack. Valdosta State connected on four home runs, including three in the five-run sixth inning that busted the game open, finishing with 17 hits overall for the game.
West Georgia struck initially by manufacturing a run in the top of the first inning, needing just one hit to do so.
Oberst reached after getting hit by a pitch and Wortham followed with a one-out single. A double steal put Oberst and Wortham in scoring position, allowing Oberst to cross the plate on an RBI groundout by junior third baseman Collin Moore.
The host squad scored a pair of runs in the bottom of the first, but Hill went yard in the second inning on a solo shot to knot the game up at 2-all. The Blazers took control of the game from there, though, starting with a two-run double by center fielder Nick Lewis in the home half of the second.
VSU stretched the lead to 6-2 on a solo home run by Doskow in the third and a two-out RBI base knock from outfielder Jowenrick Daantji in the fourth.
West Georgia got a run back in the fifth, but had the opportunity to do more damage. Oberst and Wortham came through with back-to-back singles and Griffith roped a two-out, RBI single, but the Wolves left the bases loaded as VSU hurler Tristan Cone got out of the jam with a strikeout to end the inning.
That set the stage for the big sixth inning for the Blazers, who used home runs from Lewis, Mayberry and shortstop Collin Teegarden to quickly turn the game into an 11-3 contest.
The Wolves loaded the bases again in the eighth, this time with no outs, but Valdosta State was able to get out of the jam unscathed.
Offensively, UWG was led by Wortham (3-for-5, SB).
In Monday’s nightcap, the Wolves built a 3-0 lead and received a strong start from junior right-hander Robert Coleman, who held the Blazers hitless through the first three frames.
West Georgia got on the board in the top of the third when Brant connected on a leadoff single and scored on an RBI triple by Oberst, who extended his hitting streak to 23 straight games on Monday. In the next at-bat, Wortham brought Oberst home on an RBI single.
The Wolves tacked on a run in the fourth after Griffith walked, Mish singled and Griffith came around to score on a passed ball.
After the bats were silenced through the first stretch of the nightcap, Valdosta State answered with its big inning in the home half of the fourth, scoring four runs on four hits to take the lead for good.
Neither team scored a run over the final five innings, as the Wolves threatened in the eighth, getting the potential tying run to third with two outs, but the Blazers recorded a strikeout to keep it a one-run game and closed the series with a 1-2-3 ninth.
Oberst (4-for-4, 3 SB, 3B, run, RBI) and Mish (2-for-3, BB) had multiple-hit performances for the Wolves in Game 2.
Coleman suffered the tough-luck loss, tossing eight innings and allowing four runs — all in the fourth — on five hits with three walks and seven strikeouts.
The Wolves were scheduled to step away from league play for a midweek contest against Columbus State today at Cole Field, but that game was canceled. The Wolves will now next step between the lines on Friday and Saturday against West Florida. UWG will host the Argos in a single game on Friday at 6 p.m. and wrap up the series on Saturday in a 2 p.m. twin bill.
UWG closes the regular season with six consecutive home games leading up to the GSC Tournament May 7-11.