Special to The Times-Georgian
The University of West Georgia baseball team punched its postseason ticket this past weekend courtesy of a Gulf South Conference sweep to cap off the final series of the regular season at Cole Field.
The Wolves secured the No. 7 seed for this week’s GSC Tournament behind 16-6 and 6-0 victories over Christian Brothers on Saturday, bumping up two spots in the league standings in the process and leaving little drama for Sunday’s regular-season finale. The host squad completed the sweep in a 15-8 Senior Day slugfest.
“It was real good for us to continue to swing the bats, get quality starts, play good defense. We knew what we had to do this weekend to put ourselves in position to get in the Gulf South Conference Tournament and our guys came out and did extremely well,” UWG head coach Jeff Smith said.
In Saturday’s twin bill, West Georgia (18-21, 17-19 GSC) received a pair of quality starts from Robert Coleman and Jack Rasmussen, highlighted by a dominant display from the freshman right-hander from Duluth in the nightcap.
Rasmussen fired a complete-game shutout, yielding just five hits with one walk and 15 strikeouts to stamp the exclamation point on Saturday’s sweep.
The 15 punchouts were one shy of tying UWG’s all-time single-game record established by Buddy Murphy over half a century ago in 1967.
“Jack had his ‘A’ stuff. He threw the ball extremely well and gave us an outstanding performance,” Smith said.
The nightcap Saturday was scoreless through four-and-a-half innings until UWG sophomore designated hitter Joe Skinner went yard with a shot over the left-field fence in the bottom of the fifth. The Wolves tacked on a pair of runs on back-to-back doubles from left fielder Dan Oberst and sophomore shortstop Brody Wortham and an RBI single from freshman catcher Jackson Webb for the 3-0 lead entering the sixth.
Skinner blasted his second home run in as many at-bats in the sixth to push the lead to 4-0 and the Wolves added two more runs in the eighth with Webb belting his third base knock of the contest and junior second baseman Cody Mish singling, setting up a run scoring on a wild pitch and an RBI groundout by junior first baseman Joseph Hill.
Skinner powered the offense in Game 2 with his two home runs, while Webb (3-for-4, SB, 2B, run, RBI), Oberst (2-for-4, 2B, run) and junior center fielder Jason Fointno (2-for-4) also had multiple-hit efforts.
“Joe got a couple of balls up in the zone and was able to get good barrels on them and drive them out of the park,” Smith said. “The first one got us on the board, and that’s what we talked to our guys about was scoring early and often. We had runners on second and third with less than two outs in the first inning and didn’t come across, so it was huge for Joe to give us that lift there.”
Coleman ignited the positive pitching narrative on Saturday, delivering another quality start to earn the win in the 16-6, seven-inning Game 1 decision, tossing 6.1 innings of six-hit ball, yielding three earned runs with three walks and eight punchouts.
“He came out and got going early and allowed our offense to get things going,” Smith said.
The Wolves raced out to a 10-0 lead, plating a pair of runs in each of the first two innings before putting up a six-spot in the fifth to bust the game open. In the first, Fointno started the rally with a leadoff walk, while Oberst was hit by a pitch to put runners on first and second with no outs.
Junior third baseman Collin Moore got the Wolves on the board courtesy of a one-out single and Oberst would later score on a throwing error.
In the second, Hill stroked a leadoff double, which was followed by a base knock from junior left fielder Ethan Brant. An Oberst RBI sacrifice fly and a run-scoring single from Wortham stretched the lead to 4-0.
Following two scoreless frames, the Wolves erupted with six runs on six hits and two errors in the fifth, including RBI singles from Mish and Brant and an RBI double by Wortham.
The Bucs (5-33, 3-32) cut into the lead with a single run in the sixth and five in the seventh to pull within 10-6, but the Wolves countered with a six-run home half to end it early, highlighted by a three-run bomb from Oberst, his 17th of the season.
UWG busted out 14 hits and capitalized on nine walks in the opener with Mish (3-for-4, run, 2 RBI), Hill (3-for-5, 2 2B, 2 runs, RBI), Brant (2-for-3, 2 runs, RBI), Wortham (2-for-4, BB, 2B, run, 2 RBI) and Moore (2-for-4, BB, 2 runs, RBI) delivering multiple-hit performances. Additionally, Fointno drew three walks in the leadoff spot with two runs scored and an RBI and Oberst went 1-for-1 with a walk, two runs scored and four RBI.
The Wolves celebrated Senior Day on Sunday afternoon by slugging its way to the series sweep and ride a wave of momentum into the postseason.
The Wolves bounced the Bucs in the 15-8 series finale by busting out 15 hits with three home runs. The victory served as a positive swan song for UWG’s four seniors — Oberst, Justin Johnson, Sawyer Steele and Lane Griffith.
“It was a good day. Anytime you can get sweep a series in the GSC it’s a good weekend. I was happy for our seniors to go out on a winning note and prepare ourselves for conference tournament play,” Smith said.
After taking control of each game in Saturday’s sweep, the Wolves had to overcome their first deficit of the weekend in Game 3. The Bucs plated a pair of runs in the top of the second before Johnson, starting at second base on Senior Day, drew a bases-loaded walk in the bottom of the inning to cut the deficit in half.
CBU designated hitter Luke Wewers connected on a two-out, solo shot in the third to push the lead back to two for the visitors, but UWG took the lead for good in the home half, registering an RBI double by Griffith and a three-run homer from Moore for the 5-3 advantage. The Bucs got a run back in the fourth before UWG countered with five runs in the fifth, using a two-run single from Hill, an RBI double by sophomore right fielder John Michael McRae and capping off the frame with Johnson’s second RBI of the day on a run-scoring single.
The two teams swapped a pair of runs in the sixth, highlighted by a two-run blast from Webb for his fourth hit of the day.
The Wolves capped off the day with three runs in the seventh and a home run from Wortham to wrap up the celebration.
Fittingly, Steele earned the win in relief on Senior Day, tossing 2.1 innings and allowing two runs on two hits with a pair of strikeouts.
Offensively, Webb (4-for-5, HR, 4 runs, 2 RBI), Hill (2-for-3, SB, 2 runs, RBI), Wortham (2-for-4, BB, HR, 3 runs, RBI), Moore (2-for-4, BB, 2B, HR, run, 3 RBI) and McRae (2-for-3, SB, 2B, 2 runs, RBI) all had multiple-hit efforts, while Johnson was 1-for-2 with two walks, a stolen base, a run scored and two RBI.
“Collin swung the bat well. Jackson Webb is coming back from injury and swinging the bat hot. My concern has never been about our hitting. It’s how we’re going to pitch. If we pitch well in the tournament, we’ve got a shot to have ourselves a good, little run,” Smith said.
Looking ahead to the upcoming week, Smith is confident about his team’s chances to make some noise in Oxford, Alabama, among the heavyweights of the Gulf South. UWG squares off against second-seeded West Florida at 5 p.m. on Friday in the opening round. The UWG skipper noted how the team is especially fired up to be back in the postseason atmosphere after not having the opportunity last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic shutting down the season.
“They’re definitely excited. The records go back to 0-0 and it’s a new season,” Smith said. “They’re excited to be playing in the conference tournament and excited about playing West Florida.”